(Reuters) — Chicagoans vote on Tuesday in the city’s first ever mayoral runoff, pitting well-funded incumbent Rahm Emanuel against underdog Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.
Emanuel, 55, who has spent millions of dollars on television and radio ads, was well ahead of Garcia, 58, a former state senator and alderman, in a poll released on Sunday by Chicago-based polling company Ogden & Fry. Emanuel had 51.3 percent to Garcia’s 33 percent in the poll. The poll was conducted April 4 of 972 likely voters with a margin of error of 3.2 percent.
Emanuel, former aide to President Barack Obama, failed to get more than 50 percent of the vote in a first round of voting on Feb. 24, and Garcia came in second among five contenders. It was the first time since the nation’s third-largest city started having non-partisan mayoral elections in 1995 that an incumbent failed to win in the first round.
Emanuel, who has been criticized for closing 50 public schools, violent crime and what some call an arrogant manner, has fought to rehabilitate himself with voters. He acknowledged in television ads that he can be abrasive, but said he fights for Chicago.
Emanuel has attacked Garcia, a fellow Democrat, for not having a plan to deal with the city’s fiscal problems which include a budget deficit expected to grow to $1.2 billion by next year due to public pension payments.
Garcia, a Mexican immigrant, has knocked Emanuel for being a mayor for the rich and downtown, and has said he would listen to the concerns of residents in the city’s low-income neighborhoods.
Political analysts said Emanuel seems poised to win, but it could be close, depending on turnout. A big turnout would favor the challenger.
Garcia is banking on union support, including the powerful Chicago Teachers Union, to get out the vote. Turnout has been strong in early voting - more than 142,300 compared with less than 90,000 before the February election.
“The mayor is still running negative ads. Often you run positive ads in the last days,” said Thom Serafin, a political analyst. “He wants to be certain. They’re both battling it out until the last minute.”
Republican analyst Chris Robling said Garcia hurt himself by not having better answers on budget questions, and Emanuel was able to exploit it.
“It looks like Rahm has weathered the storm,” said Robling. “Anything can happen. Lightning can strike.”