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Posted at 1:26 PM ET, 01/24/2011

Rahm Emanuel ruled ineligible for mayor's ballot, vows to fight ruling

By Chris Cillizza, Aaron Blake and Anne Kornblut

Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel was ruled ineligible to run for mayor of Chicago today. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Updated, 5:03 p.m.

Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is vowing to fight an Illinois appeals court ruling that he is ineligible to run for Chicago mayor because he does not meet the residency requirement of the office.

Sources close to Emanuel confirmed that he will appeal the ruling with the Illinois Supreme Court. Four of the seven state Supreme Court justices must agree to hear the case, and time is running short for a prolonged legal fight.

"I have no doubt at the end we'll prevail in this effort," Emanuel said at a news conference this afternoon in Chicago. "We'll now go to the next level to get clarity."

By a 2-to-1 vote, the appeals court decided that Emanuel should not appear on the Feb. 22 ballot, a stunning blow to the one-time Chicago-area congressman who had emerged as a clear favorite to replace retiring Mayor Richard M. Daley.

But Emanuel still has some hope.

Rick Hasen, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said there are some compelling arguments for Emanuel's lawyers to make -- provided they get the chance.

One would be that it's highly unusual for an appeals court to overturn a board of elections decision -- the board ruled earlier that Emanuel did satisfy the residency requirement -- and another, more practical argument would be that voters have a right to determine whether Emanuel is enough of a resident to qualify for office.

"Both of these reasons suggest to me that, if it's a close case legally, the Illinois Supreme Court should and likely would leave this decision to voters rather than have it decided by the courts," Hasen said.

The news came as a shock to political operatives and legal experts alike.

"It is absolutely amazing," Dawn Clark Netsch, a former Illinois state senator and comptroller who is now professor emeritus at Northwestern Law. "I don't think anybody really expected that result. And I don't know that it will hold up once it goes to the Illinois Supreme Court."

She added that the state supreme court will almost certainly examine the facts in the case entirely from scratch, and that it is unclear whether the opinions of two appellate judges will carry more weight than the other rulings that Emanuel can run.

Kevin Forde, the attorney who represented Emanuel, referred calls to the campaign office.

One Democratic source pointed to a recent poll conducted for a local Teamsters union that showed more than six in 10 Chicago voters believe that the candidate meets the residency requirement. Expect Emanuel and his legal team to make a "the people are on our side" case in the coming days.

Emanuel had already weathered several challenges to his residency earlier in the campaign.

At issue is whether Emanuel has been a resident of Chicago continuously for the past year. His lawyers have maintained that Emanuel never abandoned his residency even when he served as President Obama's chief of staff; it's an argument that Chicago Board of Election Commissioners -- among others -- accepted in ruling that Emanuel was in fact eligible for the ballot.

But, the appeals court disagreed, setting the stage for a colossal legal showdown in the state's Supreme Court. There is no guarantee, though, that the Supreme Court will even hear the case. Time is running short for ballots to be printed, as the race is less than a month away.

Time is critical to Emanuel's chances, as early voting begins in one week's time. If Emanuel's name is not included in those ballots, he would be at a significant disadvantage.

Since leaving the White House in late 2010, Emanuel has been at the front of the mayoral pack in terms of both fundraising and polling.

An independent survey conducted by the Chicago Tribune and released over the weekend showed Emanuel with 44 percent of the vote followed by former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun at 21 percent and former Chicago Board of Education President Gery Chico at 16 percent. No other candidate in the six-person field received double digit support.

Until today's ruling, the biggest question in the contest was whether Emanuel would win a simple majority of the vote on Feb. 22 and, in so doing, avoid an April 5 runoff.

Without Emanuel in the race, logic suggests his vote would split pretty evenly among the other two major candidates: Moseley Braun and Chico. But, a closer examination suggests that Chico would have the most to gain.

Emanuel led the Tribune poll among all three major ethnic groups -- white, blacks and Hispanics -- in the city. Chico was the clear second choice of white voters, while Moseley Braun was the preferred second option for black voters.

Since Emanuel currently has a bigger chunk of the white vote than the black vote, Chico's ceiling is considerably higher than that of Moseley Braun.

On the other hand, Moseley Braun could have an easier time locking down black voters, since she is the consensus black candidate. (Two other African American candidates have dropped from the race and endorsed her.)

If Chico could turn himself into the consensus candidate for white voters, though, he would be the new frontrunner in an Emanuel-less field. Though black voters are generally the biggest voting group, combining the white and Hispanic votes in Chicago is a recipe for an easy victory.

"Chico is the beneficiary, because Braun has terribly high negatives with both whites and Hispanics -- and a quarter of blacks," said a pollster who has done work in Chicago and requested anonymity in order to speak candidly.

Read the full decision below:

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By Chris Cillizza, Aaron Blake and Anne Kornblut  | January 24, 2011; 1:26 PM ET
Categories:  White House  
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