CHICAGO, Feb. 22, 2011 — -- On a last-minute swing through Chicago neighborhoods, mayoral front-runner Rahm Emanuel ran smack into supporters of his rival, former senator Carol Moseley Braun.
As he entered Chicago's Chicken and Waffles on the city's south side, Emanuel was greeted with shouts of "Carol, Carol, Carol…"
But some of Braun's prominent supporters, including Rev. Jesse Jackson and U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, shook hands with the former White House chief of staff as he sat down to eat.
Even Braun's most ardent backers know she is unlikely to survive today's mayoral election. The latest polls show Emanuel far out in front, trailed by longtime city official Gery Chico. If no candidate wins a majority, the top two vote-getters square off in a runoff election April 5.
For more on the history of the job of mayor in Chicago, why so many politicians want it, and an interview by George Stephanopoulos of current Mayor Richard Daley click here.
Since Mayor Richard Daley announced he would not seek a record seventh term, Emanuel has led the pack in polling and fund-raising, amassing more than $12 million in campaign contributions. An attempt by Rev. Jackson and others to solidify African-American support behind Braun has largely fizzled as the former senator's campaign has suffered numerous embarrassing gaffes.
The latest Chicago Tribune poll indicates Braun's support among black voters has dropped by half, mostly to the benefit of Emanuel.
Emanuel's most serious challenge now comes from Chico, a former school board president and Daley chief of staff. Chico, who has the support of Chicago's police and firefighters unions, has launched an aggressive TV ad campaign comparing his hardscrabble youth growing up near the old city stockyards to Emanuel's comfortable upbringing in a north shore suburb.
Chico has also scored points attacking what he derisively calls "the Rahm Tax," an Emanuel plan to replace part of the 9.75 percent local sales tax, now the highest in the country, with a tax on undefined luxury services.
Rahm Emanuel Ahead on Election Day in Chicago
Whoever wins inherits daunting financial challenges in a city facing a $655 million budget gap in the current fiscal year and unfunded pension liabilities estimated at more than $20 billion.
In the last few days, Braun has turned up the heat on the front-runners, accusing Emanuel and Chico of "rape and robbery" in using their political connections to accumulate personal wealth. Braun—whose foot-in-mouth moments have often dominated this campaign — later backtracked a bit. "Maybe rape and robbery is too strong. Maybe I should have said pillaging and plundering," Braun said.