In Chicago, Obama is a shoo-in, but is it enough?
I write this week from Chicago, President Obama’s home base from which he launched his election campaign in 2008. He eventually made history by getting elected the first African American to assume US presidency. His friend and former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is Chicago's mayor nowadays; he has been at this post since April 2012. Emanuel was credited with the success of Obama’s presidential bid success and he is now reported to be heavily involved in the President’s reelection campaign.
Despite the economic dire straits the city is going through, Chicago seems to be all for Obama’s reelection, although that may be just among the political elite of this highly politicized city. If in fact the whole city is for the President's reelection, it could be out of partisan loyalty. Chicago, after all, is a one-party town; since 1927, all its mayors have been from the Democratic Party. In addition, since 2008, all its city council members (called aldermen here) have been Democrats, except one. It is therefore logical to expect it to vote for Obama come November, and for Democratic candidates for Congress, as usual.
That is of course good news for the White House. Chicago is very important politically as Obama's home base, and economically, for its large role in Midwestern economy – shipping, trading, industry and agriculture. However, as the American Midwest has been hit especially hard by the recession, Chicago has also suffered disproportionately. Despite all of that, as I pointed out, Chicago is most likely going to vote for Obama, because it thinks of him as its own. As you may recall, the Chicago political machine has helped Obama get to the White House. Fortunately for the President, he has not been implicated in any of its shenanigans. However, its reputation may have become a burden, as the Republican presumptive candidate Mitt Romney tries to portray himself as the anti-politician – the outsider who will right the wrongs of more established politician machines.
There is another side to Chicago. Together with its important role in the economy, Chicago politics has been synonymous with corruption for a long time. A recent research project by a former Chicago politician turned academic, Dick Simpson, concluded that Chicago is the "most corrupt city in America". According to him, it has had a long history of corruption, going back to the first corruption trial, held in 1869 when city officials were convicted of graft. According to Simpson, there have been a total of 1,531 public corruption convictions in Chicago since 1976.
Since the 1970s, four of Illinois’ seven governors have been convicted of a variety of crimes (Otto Kerner, Dan Walker, George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich). In addition, dozens of Chicago alderman and other city and county public officials have been found guilty, Simpson said. In fact, corruption is intertwined with city politics that about a third of sitting aldermen since 1973 have been convicted of corruption!
Fortunately for President Obama, none of this legacy has affected him. Instead, it is the economy that may bring an end to his presidency. Bleak job reports, month after month, have weakened his credibility in managing the economy, as his rival has hammered in repeatedly on this particular point. It helps him only partially that unemployment has come down from 10.5% just two years ago, to 8.2% nowadays, because the new level is still considered too high and job creation has been only slight in recent months.
Earlier this month, the Gallup polling service released new job approval polls taken in all fifty states with the headline, "Thirteen States and D.C. Give Obama Majority Approval." But it can be read as Obama scored below majority approval in 37 States, which is not good for any candidate just a few months before the election.
In most states I have visited since July, from California to Illinois, the President appears well-liked, except among the fringe right which has never reconciled itself to Obama's presidency. However, failure to get the US back on the path of solid economic growth has hurt him even among his Democratic base. In addition, many of his loyalists have been disillusioned by what they consider to be too many compromises with the Republicans.
In sum, many people in those states voiced doubts that President Obama could get another term, unless the economy does a major turnaround before November, which seems unlikely.
Or, of course, if the Republicans self-destruct!