When I interviewed Gery Chico’s strategists for the Reader, they were insistent that Emanuel had essentially hit the upper limit of his support and were confident that they’d force Emanuel into a runoff. And I think what Ken Snyder told me about campaigning suggests how much they’ve internalized that goal: "[Campaigning is] like this big giant business that you’re growing, and growing, and growing—and you crash it all into the ground in one day. And the only way you can be successful is if you capture 51 percent of the market."

Of course, that last line is only strictly true in a two-candidate race… or if you’re in it to get to the runoff. And the new Tribune poll, unlike the recent ABC7 poll, has the race still just barely within runoff levels, though Emanuel has moved the numbers in his favor since the January 20 Tribune poll.

The numbers are pretty interesting. Braun’s support has collapsed, unsurprisingly. Del Valle treaded water, showing less support among Hispanics, but more among blacks and whites. Emanuel added five points since the last Trib poll, gaining support from both blacks and Hispanics. Gery Chico is now leading with Hispanic voters (previously it had been Emanuel) and added some support from black voters, but didn’t move his numbers with white voters at all. Except for those fleeing from the Braun bandwagon, white voter numbers didn’t change much between the two Trib polls.

Which to me suggests a couple things: Chico is consolidating Hispanic support; Del Valle is losing his chance to be competitive with Chico within the Hispanic community, but probably gained progressive support in the wake of Braun’s gaffes; and Emanuel’s still in the catbird seat.

But let’s assume that Chico and Emanuel go to a runoff. Things could get more interesting, for a couple reasons. First, despite Chico’s success in improving his numbers with Hispanics, Del Valle still polls at 18%. So his substantial support in the Hispanic community is put in play. Second, the percentage of respondents who are undecided is up—just a hair among whites and substantially among blacks (it fell for Hispanics).

If you look at the two Tribune polls, it suggests that narrowing the field benefits Emanuel as much as Chico, but Del Valle, Braun, and undecideds still represent a good percentage of the vote. Emanuel’s doing well among Hispanics, but would Chico continue his improvement and possibly chip into Emanuel’s Hispanic support? Chico’s not doing well among blacks, but how much of the 20% supporting Braun and the undecideds could he get?

And where would Del Valle’s progressive support go? Emanuel’s angered a fair number of liberals, but I think it might be easy to overestimate that if you’re the sort of political blog nerd (like me) who’s been reading the tea leaves to try to figure out Emanuel’s actual ideological role in working with Congress and the Obama administration. Do progressives break for Chico, or does "progressive" sufficiently encompass "Clinton and/or Obama loyalist" that Emanuel picks up Del Valle’s and Braun’s share of that vote?

Rich Miller says that "Chico better go hard, hard negative if he wants to make it into a runoff." Ask, and ye shall receive.

Update: The Chicago Reporter‘s Kimbriell Kelly argues that the candidates’ poll rankings are driven by the amount of coverage they’re receiving. While it can be difficult to separate the cart from the horse, my intuition suggests to me that name recognition might be the most important factor so far.

PS: While I tend to avoid explicit advocacy for specific candidates, I will say that Del Valle is right and good in recommending West Town’s Cafe Central. While I’m partial to the Cuban restaurant Habana Libre just across the street, Cafe Central is also high on my list. That block remains my favorite for dining in the city; the Intelligentsia blend at Flo is the best coffee I’ve ever had.