President Obama is set to lose another key member of his inner circle as signs point to a Friday departure for White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who's expected to announce a run for Chicago mayor after serving as Mr. Obama's top aide for nearly two years.
But while the veteran Democrat no doubt will be a top candidate for the coveted post, not even a formal East Room send-off by Mr. Obama himself means he'll be a sure bet in a crowded local race.
More than half a dozen candidates either have announced their campaigns or reportedly are mulling a run in the wake of longtime Mayor Richard Daley's announcement that he won't seek re-election, and while Mr. Emanuel benefits from a sizable war chest, his time in Washington could come back to hurt him.
"I don't think anybody's a shoo-in at this point," said Irving Rein, a communications professor at Northwestern University who has known Mr. Emanuel since the 1980s. "I think it's fair to say that he's certainly probably a leading candidate."
Mr. Emanuel has made no secret of his interest in being mayor of the Windy City, a position he has described in the past as a "dream job."
His expected departure Friday - Associated Press reports Mr. Obama will tap senior adviser Pete Rouse as an interim replacement - comes on the heels of the departures of several other key advisers, including economic adviser Larry Summers, chief economist Christina Romer and budget director Peter Orszag.
In a Thursday briefing, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs wouldn't confirm that Mr. Obama's Friday "personnel announcement" pertained to Mr. Emanuel, but he nevertheless heaped significant praise on the chief of staff.
"There's not an important thing that has happened in this administration that we've been able to accomplish for the American people that has not involved heavily his signature," Mr. Gibbs said. "He has been the energetic, inspirational leader of us, taking the president's promises and agenda and enacting them into law."
Mr. Gibbs refused to confirm reports that Mr. Obama will name Mr. Rouse as Mr. Emanuel's replacement. He said Mr. Rouse, who served as Mr. Obama's chief of staff when the president was in the Senate, brings a "complete loyalty and trust" to his post.
Asked if Mr. Obama's Friday announcement will include an endorsement, the spokesman said he didn't know.
Judging by the field of contenders, Mr. Emanuel probably could use one.
At the front of the pack is Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart, who gained notoriety by suing Craigslist and is said to be interviewing prospective campaign advisers. A slew of prominent black lawmakers looking at a bid includes former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, Rep. Danny K. Davis and state Sen. James T. Meeks.
Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, a critic of Mr. Emanuel on immigration reform, is also mulling a possible run.
One potential challenge facing Mr. Emanuel is the risk that voters might take out any dissatisfaction with the Obama administration - or Washington, for that matter - on him. As chief of staff, like Mr. Summers, he has been the target of critics on the left who argue he has been too pragmatic and accommodating toward Republicans.
However, Mr. Rein said Mr. Emanuel's experience in both Washington and Chicago, makes him a formidable candidate.
"Rahm's a good campaigner. He works really hard; he can be very engaging; he understands the politics of the city," the professor said. "I think he'll be certainly one of the serious players in this thing."
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