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Rahm Emanuel, Chuy Garcia Make Final Push for Votes

Image: Rahm Emanuel, Jesus Garcia
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, left, and challenger Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia smile as they walk to their second debate of the runoff election in Chicago, Thursday, March 26, 2015. Emanuel is trying to win his second term on April 7, after failing to win a majority of the vote in February. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)Nam Y. Huh / AP
/ Source: NBC News

Tuesday’s Chicago mayoral runoff wasn’t supposed to happen.

The better-financed Rahm Emanuel, who has held a long list of national Democrat offices and positions, was expected to return to the mayor’s office without much fight, despite challenges from several candidates.

Instead, he and the man who defied the prognosticators, Cook County, Illinois Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, are scrambling for more votes in their final hours of more than a month of a fierce, first-in-the-city’s-history runoff campaigns.

The latest polls are showing Emanuel with a solid lead, but Garcia’s camp has warned not to trust the polls, particularly because Latinos and younger voters are not well polled. His campaign manager Andrew Sharp said there is excitement too among young voters that could work in Garcia's favor.

The competitive campaign has led to higher early voting turnout, 142,000, compared to 90,000 in the primary. The race also has captured national attention as the former White House chief of staff, Emanuel, failed to win the primary outright.

The possibility that Garcia could become the first Latino mayor of Chicago has stirred the excitement of Latino leaders and donors. "His candidacy is historic in terms of having a Latino run for mayor as a viable candidate,"said Arturo Vargas, the executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. Garcia picked up the key endorsement of Latino Victory Fund, whose founder Henry Muñoz, is the Democrats’ national finance committee chair.

Garcia is an immigrant from Durango, Mexico, whose father came to the U.S. as a farmworker, but lived at times illegally in the U.S. He later earned his residency and Garcia and the rest of his family joined their father, entering the U.S. legally. They later became U.S. citizens.

“We weren’t supposed to be here. We have been counted out by pundits and polls . . . but people have had their say in Chicago. They want change,” Garcia said in a news conference Monday.

The backdrop for the race has been a city facing serious financial problems brought on by pension debt, as well as troubled schools and strained relationship between educators and the mayor.

The closing of 50 neighborhood schools and some 10,000 gun shootings in the city during Emanuel’s term have also been topics of debate. Garcia has criticized Emanuel as governing for the wealthy and for corporations. But Emanuel has questioned Garcia’s proposals to put 1,000 more cops in communities and to reopen shuttered schools as false promises without any plans for how to fund them. He referred to Garcia in debate as "Hannukah Harry," a Saturday Night Live character.

Latino supporters for Emanuel have saidhe has a sizable chunk of the Latino vote. "For that one-third of the population, what you're seeing is people who feel the mayor has done an excellent job, and that number is rock solid," said City Clerk Susana Mendoza to the Chicago Tribune recently, adding Chicago's Latino vote is not "monolithic." Among Emanuel's supporters is Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., who backed him early.

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But Garcia's supporters were optimistic that his message would sway voters to give to want to make a change.

“The thing that has been fundamentally different is that for the first time there’s been a candidate for mayor who has talked honestly with voters about the way the city is run to the benefit of the corporate elite and at the expense of ordinary working people,” Sharp said. “I don’t think the city wants that kind of leadership anymore and that’s why we’re confident we will prevail.”

_ Telemundo's Janet Rodriguez in Chicago contributed to this report.