Bernie Sanders, whose campaign in Illinois has been fueled by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s biggest critics, is using the unpopular mayor’s support for Hillary Clinton to cut into her home state lead as he stumps in Chicago and Champaign-Urbana in the final weekend before Tuesday’s primary vote.
Pounding on the Emanuel and Clinton connections is a major part of Sanders’ strategy. It can be seen in his paid advertising in the Chicago market in the campaign’s closing days and in my exclusive interview with him Friday night before he rallied before several thousand supporters at Argo Community High School in southwest suburban Summit.
“I think he’s been a terrible mayor,” Sanders told me.
A few minutes later, at the rally, the crowd roared when Sanders said, “I want to thank Rahm Emanuel for not endorsing me. I don’t want to be endorsed by a mayor who is shutting down school after school and firing teachers.”
Emanuel has been absent from Clinton’s presidential bid for months, politically toxic to her because of the police shootings, his closing of Chicago public schools and his own mega fundraising from the very corporate interests Sanders deplores.
Moreover, the dislike of Emanuel among African-Americans in the city, which Sanders is trying to leverage, hits at the core of support Clinton is depending on to collect popular votes and delegates in her native Illinois.
Clinton “touts” Emanuel “as one of her major mayoral supporters,” Sanders told me.
“…So if she feels it is important to tout Mayor Emanuel’s support, then I think it’s fair for us to say that there are many people in Chicago who think he is not doing a particularly good job, who think he is more on the side of Wall Street than he is on the side of the working families of the city.”
After Sanders surprise upset win in Michigan on Tuesday, Clinton is leaving nothing to chance – and is returning to Chicago on Monday to deliver an economic speech and rally backers at Plumber’s Hall, 1340 W. Washington.
Sanders is running two television commercials, featuring a staunch Emanuel critic, Chicago public school principal Troy LaRaviere.
The spot is not subtle. He hits Emanuel saying, “In Chicago, we have endured a corrupt political system. And the chief politician standing in the way of us getting good schools is our mayor. If you have a presidential candidate that supports someone like our mayor, you have a candidate who is not willing to take on the establishment.”
Last year, Sanders endorsed Cook County Board Member Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s mayoral bid over Emanuel, and Garcia has become one of Sanders major surrogates, introducing him at the Summit rally.
Sanders said his alliance with Garcia is not about “unfinished business. It’s part of the same process,” he told me. “…That’s what Chuy’s campaign was about and that’s what my campaign is about.”
On Saturday, Sanders appears with the Rev. Jesse Jackson at his regular Saturday morning Operation PUSH meeting. Jesse Jackson has not endorsed him but his son, Jonathan, is backing Sanders. Then Sanders heads to the University of Illinois downstate campus.
In response, Clinton spokesman Karen Finney said: “Time and again our opponent and his supporters try to use the behavior of others to smear Hillary. So its not surprising they’d try to do so in her hometown. What they don’t want to talk about is Hillary’s actual record and the work she has done throughout her life to protect and expand civil rights, economic opportunity, social justice and advocating for children and families.”
Though every survey has Clinton ahead in Illinois – so did the polls in Michigan.
Months ago, Illinois didn’t seem within striking distance for Sanders. Clinton has deep ties in Illinois, has done massive fundraising here and has the support of top African-American, Hispanic and other officials.
On Friday, Sanders said his Illinois chances looked good to him. “We are looking forward to winning it,” he told me.