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Rahm's required rapid-fire decision on Chicago mayoral bid

Why White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel has to decide quickly on whether or not to run for mayor of Chicago. AP Photo/M. Spencer Green

White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel has said nothing publicly about his interest (or lack thereof) in a bid for the now-open Chicago mayor's office in 2011 but a series of timing issues are likely to force him to make a decision sooner rather than later.

While Emanuel has remained mum, other elements of the White House have been more willing to feed the speculation.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs leaned hard into an "Emanuel for Mayor" candidacy today as President Barack Obama jetted to Cleveland to deliver an economic address.

"Something like that doesn't come around a lot," Gibbs said of the open mayoral seat, adding that Chicago is "a city you can fall in love with very quickly."

It's hard to imagine Emanuel saying anything this week since any announcement about his political future would almost certainly step on the White House's preferred economic message of the week.

But, delaying for any significant amount of time carries major practical and political hurdles. Among them:

* Candidates for mayor need to gather 12,500 signatures from Chicago residents before or by Nov. 22, the filing deadline for the race. One senior Democratic operative estimates that to be safe any candidate would want to get at least double that number as large numbers of signatures are regularly challenged and ruled invalid. Gathering that number of valid signatures takes organization -- something that's hard to build as an unannounced candidate.

* One smart Chicago Democrat estimates that a winning mayoral race will cost the victorious candidate somewhere between $6 and $7 million -- a significant sum that takes time to raise. That total could go even higher if Emanuel (or any other candidate) failed to get to 50 percent in the Feb. 22 election as the top two vote-getters would then advance to a April 5 runoff. And, the 2011 mayoral race will be governed by a new set of campaign finance laws that make raising large sums of money in a short period of time significantly more difficult than in years past. (One x-factor that is likely to work in Emanuel's favor: he should be able to transfer the $1.2 million sitting in his federal campaign account into a mayoral bid.)

* After two decades of Richard M. Daley as mayor, there are lots (and lots) of aspiring politicians who see themselves as the next mayor of the Windy City. Given the number of people who will look at the contest, it's in Emanuel's political interest to send a strong signal soon about his intentions. While an Emanuel candidacy wouldn't clear the field, it would certainly give some second-tier candidates pause about the prospect of challenging a well funded and notoriously bare-knuckled Emanuel.

* Departures are a near-certainty from the White House following the midterm elections -- if for no other reason than the Obama re-election will begin to ramp up in earnest on Nov. 3. Given that change is coming, there is likely a desire within the White House to make sure the President's top adviser is in place prior to these departures to preserve some sense of continuity -- not to mention deal with the fallout from near-certain seat losses in the House and Senate. In order for the White House to set that process in motion, Emanuel needs to decide whether he is staying or going as soon as possible.,

Knowing Emanuel, there's no question that he is already doing his due diligence about the mayoral race -- how much it will cost, could he win etc. One realization he has undoubtedly arrived at: the clock on his decision is already ticking.

By Chris Cillizza  | September 8, 2010; 3:37 PM ET
Categories:  White House  
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