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Chicago’s Democrats Watching Mayor Race

Although two former Members of Congress are on the ballot, the race for mayor of Chicago hasn’t drawn much involvement from Washington lawmakers.

Most of the Chicago-area Democrats in Washington, D.C., have endorsed either former Rep. Rahm Emanuel, former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun or former school board President Gery Chico in the race to replace longtime Mayor Richard Daley. But aside from loaning their names, Members haven’t been campaigning or fundraising on behalf of their favorite candidates.

The election is nonpartisan, but in the heavily Democratic city all the top candidates are high-profile Democrats. The election will be held Feb. 22, and if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held April 5.

A Chicago Tribune/WGN poll released Friday showed Emanuel leading by 30 points but not quite clearing the 50 percent threshold. In the poll, Emanuel got 49 percent, Chico got 19 percent, Moseley Braun got 10 percent and City Clerk Miguel del Valle got 8 percent. The poll of 718 registered voters was conducted Feb. 2-5 and had a margin of error of 3.7 points.

Emanuel was largely responsible for Democrats’ takeover of the House in 2006 as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a role that ingratiated him with House Democrats. But in his time as White House chief of staff from 2009 to late 2010, he may have alienated some Members who experienced his wrath on issues important to President Barack Obama. Illinois Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Mike Quigley have endorsed Emanuel.

Quigley, who replaced Emanuel in Congress, said he didn’t have a close relationship with Emanuel before, but the brash Emanuel convinced him over three hourlong conversations last fall. Quigley said he talked to Emanuel at length about tax increment financing, an issue he dealt with at the local level when he was a county commissioner.

“He was a quick learner, asked all the right questions, and he followed up with my former chief of staff at the county commission, read the reports,” Quigley told Roll Call last week. “That was the first thing that struck me that he’s serious.”

Since Quigley publicly endorsed Emanuel on Jan. 27, though, he hasn’t tried to persuade other Members of Congress to join him. Quigley also hasn’t contributed to Emanuel’s campaign.

Moseley Braun served one term in the Senate in the mid-1990s, overlapping with a few members of the current Illinois Congressional delegation. Her Congressional endorsements have come from fellow African-Americans, Reps. Bobby Rush and Danny Davis. Davis considered running for mayor himself but endorsed Moseley Braun when he dropped out on New Year’s Eve. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. also considered running for mayor, but he declined to make an endorsement after he decided not to run in late October.

“I have many friends and colleagues who I deeply respect that may vie to be chief executive of the city, all of whom are very worthy and very capable of being the next mayor,” he said in a statement. “As a result, I will not be making an endorsement in the February 22nd mayoral election.”

Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Dan Lipinski also are neutral in the race. Lipinski said that though he knows all three top candidates, he doesn’t have particularly close relationships with them.

“I have relationships with a number of people who are running for mayor, and all I’m concerned about is having a good mayor that I can work with the way I worked with Mayor Daley,” he told Roll Call.

Another Illinois Member is not on the sidelines. Rep. Luis Gutierrez enthusiastically endorsed Chico, and the Chico campaign said his support of the fellow Latino is partly to do with the two politicians’ unity on the need for immigration reform, some Emanuel hasn’t supported. Gutierrez followed his January endorsement with a Spanish language commercial that ran for two weeks on Spanish television in the Chicago area. The Congressman also recorded a robocall for Chico and has appeared with him at at least 10 events, according to Chico’s campaign. He was planning to host a rally with him at Humboldt Park on Sunday.

Obama hasn’t offered an endorsement in the race, but his voice was used in a radio ad praising Emanuel. Obama and the first lady vote absentee in Chicago, and on Tuesday, then-White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters the couple had requested their ballots but hadn’t yet filled them out.