Yes, Rahm Emanuel will probably run for Chicago mayor. But can he win?

While speculation has focused on Rahm Emanuel the candidate – and what his departure would mean for the West Wing – there’s no guarantee he'll be Chicago's next mayor.

Jim Young/Reuters/File
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel looks on from the Colonnade at the White House in Washington in this June 12, 2009 file photo. He is expected to announce his candidacy for Chicago mayor this week.

It’s increasingly looking like Rahm Emanuel’s entry into the Chicago mayor’s race is a sure thing.

The White House chief of staff is expected to announce his candidacy this week, according to numerous sources. He's already been busy conducting polls and calling and meeting with just about every possible opponent.

But, can he win?

While the speculation has mostly focused on Mr. Emanuel the candidate – and what his departure would mean for the West Wing – there’s no guarantee that Chicago will actually have a Mayor Emanuel.

The biggest factor in a city that is roughly one-third white, one-third black, and one-third Hispanic is the racial politics.

Already, both the African-American and Hispanic communities have been fairly vocal about their opposition to Emanuel, in part because the default position in Chicago politics has tended to be each racial group or ethnicity supporting a candidate of its own. The question is whether they’ll be able to unify behind an alternative candidate – something that seems unlikely right now.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the city’s black community has been meeting regularly to try to get behind a “consensus” candidate. Options, now that Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D) is out of the running due to scandal, include former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, Rep. Danny Davis (D), state Sens. James Meeks (D) and Rickey Hendon (D), and several others.

Senator Meeks, who is also a pastor, is popular among other black clergy. But he is a risky choice given his conservative social positions, which may not play well with the broader Chicago electorate.

Most of the candidates say they won’t run if they’re not the consensus choice, but settling on a candidate has been rough going, and some of the participants may be getting discouraged.

Meanwhile, Emanuel is reportedly considering hiring Chicago Transit Authority board chairman Terry Peterson – who ran Mayor Richard M. Daley’s campaign years ago – as his campaign manager, in an apparent effort to help his candidacy among African-Americans.

Emanuel’s tough opponents won’t just be from the black community. Hispanics may rally behind Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D) or City Clerk Miguel del Valle. And at least 10 white candidates are considering running, including Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

The field of possible candidates should get smaller as the Nov. 22 filing deadline nears, but everyone expects it to be a crowded race. A lack of consensus behind minority candidates could help Emanuel, who has a lot of support from the Chicago business community, in February’s election. But to win, the next mayor is going to have to capture a majority of the votes, almost certainly in a runoff election that would be held between the top two vote-getters in April.

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