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The people of Chicago will head to the polls and vote in a historic run-off election next week, pitting embattled Mayor Rahm Emanuel against a previous unknown who hopes to mobilize a large swathe of Chicago’s Hispanic community.
Mayor Emanuel has some big name support, including President Obama, who has already cast his absentee ballot in his favor of his former chief of staff. But Emanuel’s rival, Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, is hoping to ride a wave of voter discontent and changing demographics all the way to the ballot box.
While recent polling has shown Emanuel leading by double digits, Garcia is banking on a Hispanic voting bloc that has rarely swayed local elections. A Chicago Tribune poll conducted last week showed that over half of Hispanic voters – 52 percent – say they’re backing Garcia, who is Mexican American. Hispanics make up about a third of Chicago’s population of 2.7 million.
Another survey conducted by Latino Decisions, sampling only Hispanic voters, found over 60% of Hispanics favored Garcia. That survey came on the heels of an endorsement Garcia picked up last week by the Latino Victory Fund, a group founded last year by activists Eva Longoria and Henry Muñoz III.
“Turnout has exploded in Latino wards during early vote, and we anticipate the excitement to continue growing as the election approaches” said Garcia campaign spokesperson Monica Trevino. “Rahm Emanuel will outspend our campaign by many millions of dollars, but he certainly won't be able to compete with the groundswell of support that Chuy has built."
Emanuel, who was swept into office in 2011 by winning the majority of the vote in majority-white and majority-black wards, now has the support of nearly seven-in-ten white voters and about half of African-Americans, according to the Chicago Tribune.
"This race puts Latinos at a crossroads"
With its heavily focus on demographic turnout, the mayoral race may provide a test balloon for a coming 2016 presidential election that may be heavily influenced by Hispanic turnout.
"This race puts Latinos at a crossroads" says Jaime Dominguez, lecturer at Northwestern University and principal director of the Chicago Democracy Project. For Dominguez, the mayor's race will "provide a way for Latinos to exercise their growing and emerging political voice," adding that it will "signify that Latinos have arrived politically."
A resounding number of voters remain undecided, just a week before Election Day.
If either candidate can motivate Chicago’s melting pot community to come out and vote, they could take city hall and give future campaigns a winning strategy for how to lure the ever-elusive Hispanic bloc.
Early voting for the run-off is already double what it was for the initial mayoral election in February with some 72,000 ballots already cast according to the Chicago Board of Elections.
Both candidates will meet in their final debate Tuesday night. If elected, Garcia would be the city’s first Hispanic mayor.