Rahm Emanuel and Barack Obama

It was no surprise to me that the Sun-Times endorsed Rahm Emanuel today, the first day of early voting. The paper was a strong supporter of Rahm’s right to stay on the ballot, and the editorial board seemed to be strongly in his corner. (It’s not risky to predict that the Tribune will follow suit.)

There’s a line in the endorsement that caught my eye: “He gets big things done.”

Where have I heard that before? 

Less than a week ago, a variation thereof was perhaps the most memorable line in President Obama’s otherwise unmemorable State of the Union speech. “We do big things,” Obama said when describing Brandon Fisher whose small company designed and manufactured a drill that helped saved 33 trapped Chilean miners.  

The president repeated the line at the close of the speech.

Emanuel has a radio spot out that sounds just short of an Obama endorsement—the ad uses audio from the October 1st White House farewell ceremony featuring a tribute from the president himself. While Obama has not officially endorsed Emanuel, he might as well have. As the Sun-Times’ Lynn Sweet writes, “For practical political matters, heavy play of the Obama material from the October send-off will make it a minor matter—whether or not Obama issues an ‘official’ endorsement. It will become a distinction without a difference.”

Did the Sun-Times intend to reprise that climax to the president’s SOTU—to construct a short bridge to an Obama imprimatur for any voter who had any doubt? Anyone who has followed this race knows that President Obama would like to see Mayor Emanuel in place, as would two other prominent Chicagoans (Richard and Bill Daley) who haven’t declared, but are surely, behind the scenes, rooting and strategizing for Rahm.

With a commanding lead that could result in an all-out victory in the February 22nd primary (eliminating a runoff), an Obama connection can’t hurt—especially when the number two could be Carol Moseley Braun. To win outright, Rahm needs to corral every last African-American vote he can. 

It’s interesting, too, that the Sun-Times endorsement enumerating the “big things” Rahm got done in the Clinton and Obama White Houses does not mention NAFTA, one of Clinton’s huge legislative victories that Rahm and Bill Daley, Emanuel’s successor as chief of staff, pushed through a reluctant Congress. NAFTA is anathema to many union members who will vote in this election—and might prefer anyone but Rahm.


Photography: Esther Kang