- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 8, 2010

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel might want to return to Chicago to become mayor, but his connection to a presidency with a sinking approval rating and his association to convicted former Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich could have voters thinking otherwise.

He also faces a crowded field of candidates, with potential candidates from popular political families such as Democratic Illinois Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the daughter of the state’s longtime Speaker of the House Michael J. Madigan.

“First he has some explaining to do about the administration’s failed policies, including a $787 billion stimulus bill that was supposed to keep unemployment below 8 percent,” said John Brabender, Republican strategist for Brabender Cox. “And by association, he’s got a record that’s much harder to defend then when he was congressman just concerned about his own vote.”

Mr. Brabender said Mr. Emanuel’s second problem will be explaining to voters - and possibly to a court in a Blagojevich retrial - his connection with the former governor’s alleged attempt to benefit from deciding who would fill the Senate seat left open when Barack Obama became president.

Though Mr. Emanuel, 50, was not accused of wrongdoing in connection with the federal corruption case against Blagojevich, FBI phone tapes played during the trial included several of him talking to the ousted governor and his chief of staff about possible replacement picks for the seat. Mr. Jackson’s name also surfaced in the Blagojevich trial.

Mr. Obama and his Chicago-rooted staffers, however, remain popular in the city, said Ben Tulchin of Tulchin Research, a San Francisco-based Democratic research and polling firm.

“Sure, Mr. Emanuel has taken some hits and he’s been in Washington a while, which is not the best attribute to have when running for office right now,” he said. “A lot of people in Chicago politics get accused of corruption. It’s hard to get away from, especially when dealing with somebody who’s less than a saint.”

A new Chicago Tribune-WGN-TV poll shows Mr. Obama’s approval rating in Illinois at 51 percent, compared with 59 percent last year. It’s higher than his 45 percent approval rating in Gallup’s nationwide polling.

Mr. Emanuel emerged as a possible front-runner for the Chicago mayoral job within minutes of Mayor Richard M. Daley saying Tuesday he would not seek re-election after 21 years in office. Mr. Emanuel, a Chicago native, publicly said this past spring he would be interested in the job, but has not commented since Mr. Daley’s announcement on whether he will run.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday he has yet to speak with Mr. Emanuel about the rare opportunity to run for Chicago mayor, but he’s sure Mr. Emanuel will carefully consider his options. However, Mr. Emanuel’s focus now is being chief of staff, Mr. Gibbs said.

On Thursday morning, Mr. Obama voiced support for Mr. Emanuel becoming Chicago mayor, but said he expected the decision to run will come after the midterm elections.

“I think he would be an excellent mayor. He is an excellent chief of staff,” Mr. Obama told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in an interview. “[T]he one thing I’ve always been impressed with about Rahm is that when he has a job to do, he focuses on the job in front of him. And so my expectation is, he’d make a decision after these midterm elections.” Mr. Obama said.

The election is early next year, but requires 12,500 valid signatures by Nov. 22 to qualify.

Mr. Emanuel’s name recognition, outsized personality and credentials as a former Illinois congressman, Bill Clinton adviser and Daley strategist and fundraiser easily make him a top candidate.

The election would be Chicago’s first competitive mayoral race in roughly two decades and one of the biggest since 1995, when the city switched to an open, nonpartisan primary. It includes a runoff if no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote, a likely scenario with an expected large field.

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