Is Rahm's rebranding fail a warning for Hillary?

There will be a run off in the Chicago's Mayor's race as the incumbent, Rahm Emanuel, only won 45.4% of the vote on Tuesday in a race marked by abysmal turnout.  The second place finisher was County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, who won 33.9%.  It is the first runoff in the mayor's race since the city adopted the non-partisan runoff system for citywide offices in the mid 1990s.

The campaign may be an interesting look at what money cannot buy in politics. Not only couldn't it put Emanuel over the top, It couldn't even get people to the polls. 

Cold weather may have played a role in the election with turnout coming in at over 34 percent. That is down from four years ago, when turnout was 42 percent.

Emanuel enjoyed a significant financial edge over his opponents. The mayor’s campaign raised $13.6 million for the election, compared to Chuy Garcia’s $1.4 million. He also received the backing of President Barack Obama, who supported Rahm in political ads and during an appearance in Chicago to declare the Pullman neighborhood a national monument.

I suspect the low turnout may also reflect the lack of any real ideological choice, as the two leading candidates are both on the left. While Emanuel has Obama and Congressman Luis Gutierrez in his corner, County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia has the Chicago Teachers Union in his.  Garcia is a machine politician who talks a populist game while Emanuel is a machine politician who believers in insider deals but neither of them are talking much about a true change of direction. 

Nor is the almost 10 to 1 difference in money all that important in this race. Garcia's money should be adequate in a contest in which everyone who lives in the area always has an opinion about the kind of job the Mayor is doing and there is enough media coverage to build name recognition. 

Rahm Emanuel initially came onto the national political scene as Mayor Daley's man in Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign and in the Clinton White House.  Hillary may want to look at this race to consider the efficacy of expensive ad campaigns aimed at "rebranding" a high profile candidate.  Emanuel is said to have spent half of his war chest on TV ads 

Much like his race for mayor four years ago, Emanuel spent heavily to get his message before voters. But this time around, he placed less focus on his well-known political caricature as a fiery and often foul-mouthed politician. Instead, as a longtime political operative well-versed in campaign messaging, Emanuel made the calculation that his campaign should be less about him and more about what he has done.

As a result, his campaign website’s home page focused on an interactive Chicago map of city improvements over photos of Emanuel. His campaign slogan was rebranded from “Chicago for Rahm” to “Chicago Together.” And almost all of his campaign ads did not include him talking, but instead featured supporters lauding his specific accomplishments. It was an effort to soften Emanuel’s image with voters.

It doesn't appear that Rahm got much bang for all his rebranding dollars.  According to the unofficial results, the total number of votes cast in the mayor's race is down about 115,000 votes from 2011.  The total votes cast for Rahm Emanuel is also about 115,000 fewer than he received in 2011.

The Chicago Tribune's incomparable political columnist John Kass had this to say:

 He's raised $30 million since 2011 and he spent $7 million on ads in this campaign cycle. He had that eight-part CNN wet kiss documentary called "Chicagoland" that was really just a campaign commercial for Rahm.

And of course he had President Barack Obama give him that POTUS bro-hug just last week, and he put that in his campaign ads, too. In one commercial, young Chicagoans talked about why they loved Rahm so much.

But that was his problem. Likability.

As a candidate, Rahm has been a robot, on message, unwavering, controlled and extremely controlling. There has been hardly a second that is not planned and scripted.

If you experience technical problems, please write to