Just one month ago, Lori Lightfoot placed ninth among the 14 mayoral candidates in a poll taken by the Chicago Sun-Times. Less than 3 percent of those responding said they would vote for her.
Now it’s clear she’s headed to an April 2 runoff against Toni Preckwinkle, an amazing turnaround by any standard.
I’m probably not the only one who didn’t think Lightfoot stood a chance after that January poll.
But then something happened. It happened slowly, almost imperceptibly.
She hung tough in the debates and put some commercials on television. People started to notice. The Sun-Times endorsed her. More people noticed.
Ald. Scott Waguespack, former County Clerk David Orr and Congresswoman Robin Kelly endorsed her, none of them heavyweights but influential enough to point the way for progressive voters looking for some sign, any sign, of how to pick their way through the thicket of candidates.
All along, the same type of word of mouth campaign that brought Jesus “Chuy” Garcia to the forefront in 2015 was helping voters find her as an alternative to the established politicians who were the frontrunners.
And lucky for her, Lightfoot peaked so late that those other candidates never found it necessary to train their negative advertising on her.
Only in the final few days did they start after her with whisper campaigns that undoubtedly will form the basis for the runoff election — trying to make the case that she’s not as progressive as she’s been portrayed.
But for them, it was too little, too late.
Lightfoot’s showing was a bright spot on an otherwise mostly dismal Election Day.
Given an historic opportunity to set the city on a new course in an election without an entrenched incumbent or an anointed successor, most Chicago voters sat out Tuesday’s trip to the polls.
The turnout was pitiful, flirting with the record low 33 percent turnout in the abysmal 2007 matchup between Richard M. Daley and Paul Jakes.
The civic energy of the November mid-term election dissipated faster than you can say: Donald Trump doesn’t care who wins.
So be it. For those who do care, there’s another election April 2.
That’s just 35 days away. Early voting is supposed to start in 20 days.
Expectations are that more people will participate, but it’s difficult to be sure. This is only Chicago’s second experience with a runoff election since switching to a non-partisan system of electing its mayor.
What’s certain is that it will be over in the blink of an eye, and for the candidate who doesn’t react quickly enough out of the gate, it will be too late.
Rahm Emanuel taught Chuy Garcia that the hard way four years ago.
Before Garcia could even raise enough money to get his runoff campaign into gear, Emanuel had successfully defined him negatively in the eyes of the voting majority.
Now it will be the underfunded Lightfoot who will be vulnerable to the same sort of attacks from Preckwinkle.
The difference is that Lightfoot is the type of person who warms to the fight.