After an intensive, unprecedented, six-week battle of TV commercials, debates, endorsements, yard signs and campaign fliers, the race for Chicago mayor is now all about boots on the ground.
Campaigns for both Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia revved up their ground games, each saying they have 5,000 supporters fanning out to get their voters to the polls Tuesday in the city’s first-ever citywide runoff election.
“It’s precinct-by-precinct, house-by-house, hand-to-hand combat. No precinct is not gonna be covered by what we’re doing on Election Day,” said Matt Hynes, an Emanuel campaign adviser.
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Garcia’s field director, Abdelnasser Rashid, said Garcia’s field operation is the largest Chicago has seen in decades.
“We will leave no vote uncontested,” Rashid said.
Emanuel’s re-election campaign has at least one vehicle assigned to every one of Chicago’s 50 wards to drive voters to the polls. And the campaign bought 2,500 ponchos to protect its rejuvenated army of precinct workers from the rain.
While Emanuel performed worse than anticipated on Feb. 24, Garcia performed better — something Garcia was predicting would happen again on Tuesday.
“We made history six weeks ago, and tomorrow, we’re going to make history once again,” a hoarse-voiced Garcia told a crowd who chanted “Chuy!” and “si se puede!” [yes we can] in a packed campaign office in Pilsen on Monday.“They know that if we move forward together, that’s progress, that’s change and we’re going to do that tomorrow, right?”
Despite Emanuel holding a strong lead in recent public polls, Garcia was predicting an upset.
“This is an unconventional campaign. You can’t discount that we forced a runoff with $1.3 million,” Garcia said. “To the conventional thinkers — big surprise in store.”
Emanuel’s camp has retooled its strategy after a lackluster ground game preceding Round One in which the mayor fell short of the more than 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, center, eats breakfast at Ann Sather with his campaign workers April 6, 2015 in Chicago, (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
“Spring break was a big concern of ours. We made a choice to spend a lot of money and human resources to get people to vote early before they potentially left town,” Hynes said.
It was a concern because the Chicago Teachers Union is one of Garcia’s biggest supporters, and time off this week for Chicago Public Schools will allow teachers who stayed in town time to pound the pavement.
“It’s not about building leads. It’s about hedging against the potential downside of spring break. We feel like it was a successful effort. It makes our election day operation more efficient,” Hynes said. “That means we have fewer targeted or identified voters to get to the polls on Election Day. But if you got a mail ballot and didn’t use it, we need to track those people down.”
Now, it’s a matter of getting the rest of the campaign’s “pluses” or targeted voters to the polls and driving up turnout in wards where the mayor did well, but not well enough onFeb. 24.
Rashid, a Harvard University graduate who worked on President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, is now handling Garcia’s ground troops.
“We learned about how to put together a strong, organized, disciplined field operation. We brought that to the campaign. That’s why you’ll see over 5,000 volunteers tomorrow knocking on 300,000 people’s doors. . . . We know exactly who early voted and who still needs to vote.”
Cook County Commissioner and candidate for mayor of Chicago Jesus “Chuy” Garcia speaks to supporters outside his headquarters April 6, 2015, in Chicago. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
Emanuel’s camp was claiming that the vast majority of more than 142,000early votes broke its way, while Garcia’s was saying the early vote spelled good news for the challenger. Rashid said the top 10 wards with the highest percentage increase were Latino wards, andthat of the 10 wards with the highest vote totals — just two were in wards where Emanuel won the majority in the Feb. 24 first round.
Emanuel’s camp, meanwhile, saw surges in wards geographically favorable to the mayor.
Jerry Morrison, political operative with Service Employees International Union Local 1, said a review of the early vote shows that 30 percent of people who pulled ballots were new voters or infrequent voters — a pool more likely to vote for Garcia, he said. SEIU has endorsed Garcia.
“I think what the Emanuel campaign has doneis early voted a lot of affluent white people. If that’s what theydid, they didn’t change any behavior,” Morrison said. Morrison said the higher the voter turnout on Tuesday, the better the odds are for Garcia. “Higher turnout means younger voters, the younger the voters, the more the electorate favors Chuy.”
Those out for Emanuel include members of trade unions, the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2, a large paid program and ward organizations no longer pre-occupied with aldermanic elections that have been “commandeered” by the Emanuel campaign. Garcia has the CTU, SEIU Health Care, SEIU State Council as well as other labor groups and ward groups.
The Emanuel campaign mailed out 250,000 absentee ballot applications and placed a heavy emphasis on early voting with letters from the mayor and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
The 34 percent turnout onFeb. 24should have been a boon to a deep-pockets incumbent who outspent his opponent by a nearly 11-to-1 margin in Round 1. But it was just the opposite for Emanuel. His vaunted get-out-the-vote operation was a bust.
Garcia had a dedicated army of thousands of field workers from the Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU Health Care. Emanuel had no such enthusiasm in the field. He relied on Obama-style technology instead of old-fashioned shoe-leather and paid the price. He didn’t get his voters to the polls.
In the 42ndand 43rdWards, Emanuel racked up his biggest margins at 73.2 and 71.8 percent, respectively. But the turnout in those wards was way down — from 18,828 voters in 2011 to 8,498 in the 42ndWard and from 14,914 to 9,950 in the 43rdWard. Likewise, looking at early votes, the largest percentage gains from this round vs. Feb. 24 were in Latino wards — but the number of registered voters are among the lowest in the city.
“They’ve put a significant effort into building an operation on the Northwest Side in the 38th, the 41stand 45thWards. Same deal with the 19thand 10th. The rationale is, those are areas that could pull out a lot of votes for the mayor that could tip the scales,” one Emanuel campaign operative said.
Each side had just six weeks to put together a runoff campaign. Emanuel though was buoyed by an already bountiful campaign fund, which allowed him to quickly bounce back from Feb. 24 and begin organizing a ground game for April 7. It also had Emanuel heavily invested in TV early on — initially with a pseudo-mea culpa ad and then to a series of negative attacks on Garcia. Having only raised $1.3 million in the first round compared with Emanuel’s nearly $16 million, Garcia was delayed getting up on TV to get out his message.