Chicago teachers strike becomes issue in presidential race

The first strike in 25 years by Chicago teachers became an issue in the presidential race Monday as Mitt Romney ripped President Obama’s association with teachers unions and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was forced to suspend his work fundraising for super-PACs aligned with the president.

The strike could pose a political problem for Obama as he is torn between his former top aide and valued member of his reelection effort and a key part of his liberal base.

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After the Chicago Teachers Union failed to reach an agreement with Emanuel that would have averted a strike, Romney, who attended a fundraiser in an affluent Chicago suburb Monday evening, released a statement tying Obama to unions and the strike.

"I am disappointed by the decision of the Chicago Teachers Union to turn its back on not only a city negotiating in good faith but also the hundreds of thousands of children relying on the city’s public schools to provide them a safe place to receive a strong education," Romney said.

"President Obama has chosen his side in this fight, sending his vice president last year to assure the nation’s largest teachers union that 'you should have no doubt about my affection for you and the president’s commitment to you,' " Romney continued. "I choose to side with the parents and students depending on public schools to give them the skills to succeed, and my plan for education reform will do exactly that."

At a campaign stop on Monday, Romney also said it was important to "put our kids first and put the teachers union behind."

The statement and comment, together, represented a clear attempt by Romney to gain political ground by forcing Obama to weigh in on an issue in his hometown that could either enrage unions or paint Obama as disinterested in the problems of public schools.

Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for Obama's reelection campaign, said the GOP nominee was just trying to score political points.

"Playing political games with local disputes won't help educate our kids, nor will fewer teachers," LaBolt said.

Similarly, White House press secretary Jay Carney said that the president's "principal concern is for the students and families affected by the situation."

The strike, which was expected to affect hundreds of thousands of Chicago students and their families, also caused Emanuel to suspend his role as a top fundraiser for super-PACs that favored Democrats and Obama.

Emanuel, Obama’s former White House chief of staff, canceled an appearance at a fundraiser hosted by the House Majority PAC, a super-PAC supporting Democratic congressional candidates, on Monday. Emanuel's office explained that he was not stepping down from the role, he was just focusing his attention on his mayoral duties.

Emanuel criticized the teachers as engaging in a "strike of choice" and suggested that Romney was just trying to score political points.

"While I appreciate his lip service, what really counts is what we are doing here," Emanuel said, according to The Associated Press. "I don't give two hoots about national comments scoring political points or trying to embarrass — or whatever — the president."

Political strategists seemed divided on the fallout for Obama.

Eric Adelstein, a national Democratic strategist with Adelstein Liston, brushed off the idea that the strike could hurt the president.

"I don't buy it," Adelstein said. "I think it's a bridge too far to tie Obama to the teachers strike. Rahm Emanuel is not his chief of staff, Rahm is mayor of Chicago."

While Adelstein does not think Obama will be weighed down by the strike, he was not surprised that Romney opted to attack the incumbent on the issue, likening it to "catnip for the Republicans."

"I'm not going to start trying to guess his motive, but I think Republicans love to try and beat up on unions," Adelstein said.

Tom Ingram, a Republican political strategist, meanwhile, maintained the strike does pose risks for Obama, especially as he works to win over swing voters who might not want a president blindly supporting unions.

"I'd say swing voters are probably in the group that probably wouldn't be overly enthused about teachers unions," Ingram said. "So he'll have a little bit of a tightrope [to walk]."

This story was posted at 12:10 p.m. and last updated at 4:59 p.m.

Amie Parnes contributed to this story.