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Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel handicaps Democratic presidential primary race

“Anybody who tells you they know how this is gonna play out is a fool,” Emanuel said.

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is interviewed Friday, Nov. 22, 2019, by Sun-Times City Hall Reporter Fran Spielman.
A relaxed former Mayor Rahm Emanuel is interviewed Friday by Sun-Times City Hall Reporter Fran Spielman.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Former Vice President Joe Biden has had a tough two months that have raised “questions of durability with voters.” But he’s also “incredibly resilient,” so don’t write him off.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is a small-city mayor with a big problem attracting African American voters. But, Barack Obama looked light on experience once, too.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has a stop-and-frisk problem. But never underestimate any candidate who can “write a $100 million check and not miss it.”

Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Friday handicapped the Democratic presidential primary sweepstakes playing out against the extraordinary backdrop of impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump.

Emanuel served as Obama’s first White House chief of staff. He’s known Biden for decades — dating back to when Emanuel was a brash young strategist for former President Bill Clinton, then a congressman engineering the 2006 Democratic takeover of the U.S. House.

Is the former vice president fading fast?

“It’s safe to say — and he would say this — the last two months have not been great PR. But if you look at the poll numbers, he is incredibly resilient. … Don’t [write him off]. I would not do that,” Emanuel said.

“While he has raised questions of durability with the voters, he’s a little more resilient than you would think from a conventional insider. My attitude is, the voters will decide this.”

Although the late entries by Bloomberg and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick seem to stem from a sense Biden is fading, Emanuel said it’s more complicated than that.

“The yearning [for alternatives] is because, since John Kennedy, there’s this love to fall in love. … Then, they all of the sudden become unbelievably pragmatic about, ‘Who do I want to get married to? I’m no longer dating,’” Emanuel said.

“Everybody’s had what I call this Andy Warhol moment. Beto O’Rourke. The cover of Vanity Fair may not be the place you want to launch [a presidential campaign]. … Then, all of the sudden, Elizabeth Warren has her moment. Buttigieg is in that place. … You fall in love, then you start finding the faults that make them less viable for the general [election].”

And what about “Mayor Pete”? Can the openly gay mayor of a college town with virtually no African American support win the Democratic nomination on the strength of his surge to the top in Iowa?

Emanuel offered this observation: “Everybody who is called a pundit got it wrong” in the past four presidential elections.

“Would you elect a real estate developer out of New York who has a past that is — unbelievably — filled with judgments that are borderline criminal. Sues everybody. Sexual innuendos. Versus a former U.S. senator and secretary of state? . . . Everything that they tell you can’t happen, the public has told you, ‘Maybe you’re not such a smarty-pants,’” he said.

“One of the things I know about the process — it puts about 15 more pounds on you.He’s all of a sudden gonna look different if he all of a sudden wins the nomination. You’re gonna see him with a different shade of glasses. Not just Mayor Pete. That’ll be true about everybody.”

Emanuel said Patrick has a “compelling personal story” that just might overcome his late entry.

“To be a person that starts in the Robert Taylor Homes and ends up in the U.S. Justice Department, governor of Massachusetts, in the corporate C-suite is an incredible American story. And it will have its gravitational pull on the voters,” Emanuel said.

“Look at Obama’s and Clinton’s personal stories. Personal stories and biographies actually count more than they did 40, 50 years ago.”

Bloomberg has apologized for the stop-and-frisk policy he implemented as mayor. He has a record that’s both a strength and a weakness. But, he also has that checkbook.

“As a former finance director for Bill Clinton, don’t ever underestimate somebody’s ability to write a $100 million check and not miss it,” Emanuel said.

Now a commentator who appears regularly on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” Emanuel concluded by quoting his late father.

“As famous philosopher Dr. Ben Emanuel once said, ‘The ball, she is round,’” Rahm Emanuel said. “You just don’t know where it’s gonna bounce.”

“Anybody who tells you they know how this is gonna play out is a fool.”