Paul Vallas looks like a shoo-in to win one of the top two spots in the Feb. 28 mayoral primary, and is a slight favorite to beat his two most likely opponents, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Brandon Johnson, in the April 4 runoff. (Yes, Johnson faithful, your guy has a chance to become the next mayor.) That’s how Northwest Side pollster Matt Podgorski sees the mayoral race, with less than four weeks to go. 

“I think at this point, unless something dramatically changes, Vallas is in one, and I think there’s a four person race for the second spot” between Garcia, Johnson, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Willie Wilson, Podgorski says. “If it’s Vallas and Brandon Johnson, I think 60 percent chance Vallas wins. If it’s Vallas-Garcia, I’d say 55 percent, 52 percent Vallas wins.”

Podgorski’s M3 Strategies conducted a poll of 531 likely voters for Fox 32 between January 15-17. For this edition of Mayoral Power Rankings, we asked Podgorski to handicap each candidates’ chances, and discuss their best strategies for winning. (If you want to DIY, Podgorski designed a Mayoral Projection Tool that allows voters to predict how candidates will fare, based on the percentage of each 2019 candidate’s vote they are projected to receive.)

1. Paul Vallas: 26 percent

“Politics is timing. This guy is no less qualified, no more qualified now than he was four years ago. What’s different is what the field looks like. Paul Vallas was competing four years ago with Bill Daley, Jerry Joyce, Gery Chico and Garry McCarthy. I do think he’s the favorite. From a demographic perspective, and I don’t mean just racial, but I also mean ideological, he has the widest lens. He’s the most centrist of the nine Democrats running. The cross tabs are where it gets really interesting by race. Vallas is not only getting the White vote. He’s second place among Hispanics [with 28 percent], third place amongst Blacks [with 12 percent]. Now, it depends on who he faces. If he faces Lightfoot, I think he’s almost assured victory. She’s just so deeply unpopular. Whereas, if he faces Chuy, I think it’s a dogfight. And Johnson is probably a bit of a dogfight.”

2. Chuy Garcia: 19 percent

“Similarly, he’s the only Latino right in the race when they make up 25 percent of the voting electorate. That’s a big deal. So that in itself, like Vallas, gives him a lane. His lane is a little bit more tribal, whereas Vallas’s lane is a little bit more ideological. And he’s a household name to some degree. Where Garcia can get jammed up is he’s got some baggage, but Lori has been pounding on him. And those numbers are reflected in the difference between my December poll and my January poll. [Garcia’s numbers declined from 27 percent to 19 percent.] So Lightfoot’s attacks have been having some effect on him. I’ve got the feeling Chuy didn’t even really have a big interest in running. Various special interests and organizations pushed him into running. If you remember, [Nuestro PAC] commissioned a poll to force him back in [September]. I think he was sort of maneuvered into running. I’m not sure his heart’s in it, because if you see him, he just doesn’t have a lot of passion.”

3. Brandon Johnson: 12.2 percent

“He’s spending a whole bunch of money. He was on TV with some pretty good commercials. The [Chicago Teachers Union] faithful are pushing him hard. Interestingly, when you look at his cross tabs, he’s doing better amongst White voters [17 percent] than he is Black voters [12 percent]. He’s a cool young Justin Trudeau of the Chicago mayor’s race. He’s not running as a Black dude. He’s just running as a young kind of hip teacher, socialist kind of teacher. Part of that’s demographics: the reason he’s not doing better amongst Whites than Blacks is there’s seven Black candidates. I think he gets into the runoff by attrition, if Chuy just keeps getting pounded to the point where he’s left with nothing but 55 percent of the Hispanic vote and very little of the White vote and very little of the Black vote. Johnson needs to consolidate as much of the Black vote as he can, which is not going to be easy. And then cut into Vallas’s vote, whatever White undecided voters are out there. I think Johnson can only get in through attrition; if the other guys are just destroying each other, what’s over is the guy who hasn’t been getting beat up.”

4. Lori Lightfoot: 9.8 percent

“Her only path to victory, in my opinion — I think she knows she can’t beat Garcia in a runoff. She can’t beat anybody in a runoff. She thinks she can beat Vallas in the runoff, and her whole strategy is going to be to just say he’s a Republican, which ain’t gonna work. But what else does she got at this point? Don’t attack Vallas, you let Vallas go, because he’s already in the runoff, you want him in the runoff. I don’t think it’s the right logic, but it’s the only logic. I think you’ve got to beat the hell out of Chuy to make sure that you’re in the number two spot. That’s your only strategy. She’s got to also keep her eye on the pulse closely. She might have to bang around Brandon Johnson a little bit, too.”

5. Willie Wilson: 8.5 percent

“Willie’s hanging around as kind of the wild card in there. Same reason as Johnson. Getting the other ones to keep killing each other, don’t go after Willie, which is hard to attack him. He’s running a better campaign than he did last time. I just don’t see it, though. What did he get four years ago? Ten percent? The only reason I say he gets maybe 1 or 2 percent more is just because there’s less candidates in the field. So he’s probably at 8 to 12 percent. I just throw it in there just because he’s close enough to where if the wind blows the right way…That is possibly the one person that Lightfoot could beat in a runoff, but it won’t be him, because it’s going to be Vallas. I think Willie takes away from Lori because her base is senior Black females. Could Willie beat Vallas in a runoff? Not to be insensitive, but how’s he gonna do in a debate? In a one-on-one debate, one where you have to talk for 40 minutes, he’s going to struggle.”

6. Kam Buckner: 2.3 percent

“Kam just got re-elected to the state House. He’s moving up into leadership. I don’t think he’s going anywhere. I don’t think he’s raised a lot of money for the mayor’s race. I think he can position himself to have a higher profile in the state House. If Kam Buckner knew what the field was going to look like now in September, he wouldn’t have run.”

7. Ja’Mal Green: 1.3 percent

“I think he’s building his name recognition out there for the donor class. He’s getting to meet folks who otherwise he wouldn’t get a chance to rub shoulders with. Then I think he thinks that once the runoff comes, his endorsement will earn him some political chits.”

8. Sophia King: 0.8 percent

“She’s champagne buddies with Michelle Obama. I think that they’re thinking this is an audition for the future — something in her career. She’s in her late 50s. She’s got to get her profile out there sooner rather than later. She wants to do something big. Unless those third tier candidates get a tremendous influx of cash, they’re just not in the hunt.”

9. Roderick Sawyer: 0.2 percent

“He just kind of was like, ‘Well, I’ll put my name in there and maybe I’ll get lucky. I’ll be the only other Black candidate on the ballot besides Willie and Lori.’ He really struggled just to get on the ballot. He seems competent, but he’s not really catching any traction.”

Related Content