Less than two weeks from the election for Mayor of Chicago and Rahm Emanuel is now polling more than the requisite 50% vote total to avoid a run-off. His 54% in the ABC 7 Chicago commissioned poll exceeds that of his closest competitor, Gery Chico, by 40 points. [Of course, all polls must be treated with some skepticism; There have been several independent polls in this race that have had Rahm with a big lead, but this is the first that projects he will obtain more than 50% on Feb. 22].
There are those who say that Rahm is buying this race. That's not quite right. Yes, Rahm is far and away the biggest fundraiser in the race. But, that alone usually won't do it. The main reason he is far ahead is MOM, i.e. Money, Organization and Message. Rahm not only has the money to saturate the Chicago media market, he knows which message to put there. And, he has the people who can refine and adapt his message to changing events. Further, he knows how to use the money to put together an effective organization.
But, even having the right or best MOM isn't enough. You also have to know how to make things click, how to use the money, organization and message in the most effective way. Some campaigns, like some corporations, know how to do the hundreds of things in a week that make the campaign and the candidate click with the voters. And, some campaigns don't.
You also have to have the right history, i.e., have done what it takes to be able to trundle out the heavy artillery-- Presidents Clinton and Obama, and others, to make you competitive, if not the winner, in every demographic in the City.
Money and making things click
Raising money has never been a problem for Rahm, having raised it for Mayor Daley, President Clinton and for himself. He also earned 18 million dollars, or so, in investment banking in his three years in the private sector prior to being elected to Congress. Money begets money, so Rahm raising twelve million dollars for this campaign is not surprising (that is more than four times the amount raised by Gery Chico, and thirty times that raised by Carol Moseley-Braun).
Rahm has said his strength in investment banking was staying focused on what it took to get the deal done. One of Rahm's big deals to close was the ComEd-Philadelphia Electric public utility merger. His team coordinated the various steps to keep the principals in sync and happy. He understood what it took to get the merger approved: by the regulators, federal and state; by the shareholders, etc. And, he had the relationships to see that it all got done, and that the right amount of money got raised to finance the deal. Money is always a part of Rahm's success. Those abilities, cultivated in private business, were applied with precision and success in the political world.
Turn the U. S. House of Representatives Blue in 2006? Using similar skills, Rahm focused on the three most important aspects of politics: Raising the money, building the organization and getting the right candidates and message (In this case, it was Katrina, Public Corruption, and an unpopular, unending War, as Democrats and many independents saw it). Again, Rahm knows how to make the whole enterprise click, with money an integral element.
Help raise the money to get Daley elected Mayor and Clinton elected President? First, Rahm built and maintained his personal relationships. Then he converted those relationships into money. Then he worked with the larger team to integrate the money and the message into the organization, and then made it all click.
If you have the money and you are close to the players in Chicago, starting with Daley, and his aides and then the rest of the downtown players in the corporate, civic and government communities, it's not a great challenge to put together a winning organization.
In Rahm's first bid for electoral office in 2002, in the Democratic Primary (which was the General election) for the 5th Cong. District race, Rahm won only by about one fourth of his current lead. Lucky for Rahm, that 5th CD race occurred before Daley's Water Department head, Don Tomczak, was sent off to prison for using a campaign army on city time to elect friends of Mayor Daley, like Rahm.
But, after six years in Congress, turning the U. S. House blue and two years as President Obama's Chief of Staff, Rahm knew more about putting together a winning organization. As Rahm said a few weeks ago, he couldn't attend a candidate forum because he had to meet with the Black ministers. People laughed but it was true, sort of. Never underestimate the importance of Black ministers in turning out the vote on the South side and West side of Chicago.
The ABC-7 poll predicts Rahm will get a majority of the African-American vote in Chicago, even though he is running against the only African-American woman ever elected to the U. S. Senate, Carol Moseley-Braun. And this is after the major Black business, civic, clergy and campaign donors cleared the field of the other major African-American candidates for Moseley-Braun.
Impact of Presidents Obama and Clinton on the Mayor's race
Rahm's Black vote reflects his money and organization, Moseley-Braun's lack of same and the fact that he has run a good campaign and she has not. Of course, the ads that Rahm has run with President Obama saying nice things about Rahm (OBama's former White House Chief of Staff), even if not explicitly endorsing him, have been and will be very helpful to Rahm in the Black (and White) community. And, the explicit endorsement by President Clinton (known by some as the first Black president) has not hurt Rahm either. Again, Rahm has the history and know-how to make things click.
The KISS message
When it comes to message, Rahm has generally followed "KISS"- keep it simple stupid. His ads, statements and discussion have emphasized his love of the city of Chicago, his desire to keep Chicago the great city he grew up in (except for that large portion of his boyhood he spent on the North Shore), making the City safer, improving the public schools, attracting jobs to the City and providing for a stable budget. When he has to keep it really simple, it is "safe streets, good schools and good jobs."
The Editorial Boards at the Tribune and the Sun-Times and the other powers that be downtown say a lot of nice things about Rahm, but most of all, it's that he can get the job done. Or, maybe get the deal done.
There has been some discussion in this race of important public policy issues, e.g., dealing with out of control city employee pension obligations, dealing with the unions, broadening the sales tax to include "luxury services (Chico calls it the Rahm tax)," opposition to tax increases, proposed spending cuts, putting more cops on the streets, putting more money into traditional neighborhood schools, expanding charter schools and even offering low income parents school vouchers. So, I don't mean to imply that ideas and proposed public policies have had no effect on the candidates' success at winning over voters and important voting blocks, e.g., unions, advocacy groups, etc. But, mostly this race has reflected Rahm's advantage in money, organization and message, his large base as a former Congressman for a District that included much of Chicago, his history with influential pols and his perceived ability to make things click.
Even all the legal challenges, on residency grounds, to Rahm's candidacy ended up softening Rahm's image as a tough guy, making him instead look like a reasonable, patient person who was forced to answer interminable questions about how many boxes he had stored at his Chicago house when he lived in DC and why he leased his Chicago home when he moved his family to DC for the last two years. Indeed, the residency challenges converted Rahm's image from a pol who metaphorically stabbed his opponents with steak knives to someone who was unfairly victimized by his political opponents.
Rahm's only worry now is that if he doesn't get more than 50% on Feb. 22 and if Gery Chico, the likely No. 2 with a resume that sounds perfect for the Mayor's job, can somehow narrow the fund-raising gap before April 5, 2011, find an issue that catches fire-- more, say, than the Rahm tax has, mobilize the Hispanic vote, get a much larger chunk of the black vote and be much more competitive with Rahm on the white vote, then we could have a ball game, as they say. But, for now, that is a lot of ifs and the Mayor's race is clearly Rahm's to lose.