Chicago: An Electoral Blow To Rahmbo

In a distinct upset, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, despite a massive financial advantage and the backing of the country’s most famous resident of his city, was knocked into a runoff by voters yesterday. He actually fell well short of the majority he needed to win outright, with 45% of the vote. Cook County commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia won 34% of the vote, producing the first mayoral runoff in the city’s history.

Turnout was quite light, but you figure the heat of this particular runoff (along with spring weather) could drive it up when voters return to the polls in April. Garcia won decisively in the city’s Latino neighborhoods, but his clear challenge is to galvanize African-American unhappiness with the incumbent.

Naturally there will be a rush to make this contest a surrogate “struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party.” To read Politico today, the election was all about Barack Obama, and others will make it out as a repudiation of the Clintons. But Emanuel has aggravated long-standing tensions in Chicago on his very own, and if he does struggle or even lose, he’s worked very hard to make that happen.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.