- Associated Press - Sunday, January 2, 2011

CHICAGO | Former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun has become the “consensus” black candidate in Chicago’s mayoral race, a position that black leaders say will give her a shot at winning against a strong field that includes former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

But now that she is in the spotlight, Ms. Braun will have to answer questions about her qualifications as well as problems that led voters to boot her from the Senate in 1998 after one term, and why voters should hand City Hall’s keys to someone who hasn’t been elected to anything for years.

Ms. Braun trumpeted her resume Saturday at a rally with U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis, who announced on New Year’s Eve that he was withdrawing from the race, and state Sen. James Meeks, who gave up his own run for mayor days ago.

The loud and enthusiastic crowd included young people who weren’t even born the last time Ms. Braun won an election — her victory in 1992 that made her the first black woman to become a U.S. senator.

“I’m the most qualified candidate for the job of mayor of Chicago — make no mistake about it,” she said, citing her time in local and national politics and her stint as ambassador to New Zealand as evidence of her skills and “connections from all over the world.”

In a city with serious financial problems, Mrs. Braun made special mention that she was the first woman to serve on the Senate’s finance committee.

The withdrawals of Mr. Davis and Mr. Meeks signal that black political leaders think Mrs. Braun has the best chance to sway voters outside the black community, and she says she can do it.

“We’re going to bring black, white, brown, one side of town to the other, back together again,” she said.

Also in Ms. Braun’s favor, said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, is her ability to raise money. Analysts said that will be crucial, particularly in a race against the well-financed Mr. Emanuel.

“They share many of the same concerns,” Mr. Jackson said of Ms. Braun and Mr. Davis. “But they couldn’t share the same base of financial support.”

Mr. Jackson suggested that with Ms. Braun’s fundraising track record and ability to win support throughout the city, as she did when she won her Senate race and other races, the decisions by Mr. Davis and Mr. Meeks make sense. She has convinced voters in all of the city’s 50 wards to vote for her, he said.

On Saturday, Ms. Braun did not mention by name Mr. Emanuel or two other prominent candidates, former public schools President Gery Chico or City Clerk Miguel del Valle. In recent days, however, she has signaled that she plans to portray Mr. Emanuel as an outsider and not a Chicagoan. Mr. Emanuel beat a challenge to his residency with an elections board decision to place his name on the ballot - a decision that is now being challenged in court - but Ms. Braun is not about to let the issue go.

After Mr. Davis groused about former President Bill Clinton’s decision to campaign for Mr. Emanuel, Mrs. Braun did the same - adding her own dig at Mr. Emanuel.

“What we have is an outsider running for mayor and bringing outsiders in to help him,” she told reporters a few days ago.

Still, Ms. Braun will have to play some defense in the coming weeks. That starts with getting as many blacks as she can to vote for her. Mr. Emanuel, who has won praise from the nation’s first black president, Barack Obama, has made it clear throughout his campaign that he is not going to simply write off blacks in the February election.

“With all the challenges we face, we must come together to work on behalf of all Chicagoans and address the need of every neighborhood,” he said in a statement after Mr. Davis announced that he was dropping out of the race.

Then there is Ms. Braun’s history and incidents that raised questions about her judgment. Mrs. Braun came under criticism when she visited with a Nigerian dictator when she was a senator, and faced never-proved accusations about misused campaign money.

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