Chicago mayor’s race — new poll puts Carol Moseley Braun in second place. Really?

No, not really. When I saw a news post Sunday afternoon on a website called “Ward Room, ” run by the NBC-TV affiliate here, I did a double-take at the headline: “Poll: Moseley Braun in Second Place.”

The reporter, Zach Christman, apparently forgot to ask a key question — who paid for the poll? The answer, when I reached the man behind the poll, Rod McCulloch, was that Carol Moseley Braun paid for it. The one-term U.S. senator from Illinois, as I’ve written previously, is running a bizarre and incompetent campaign.

I knew that the polling company, Victory Research, was not exactly Gallup when a Google search did not yield a website for it. When I called the number on the press release that described the poll of “801 randomly selected likely voters,” I got McCulloch’s cell phone.

Released Sunday, the survey showed Rahm Emanuel with 44.8 percent and Moseley Braun in second with 22.5 percent.

Gery Chico, the man who has shown up in second place in the two most recent polls — one by Tribune/WGN and the other by Richard Day Research for ABC-7 —  shows up third with 16.1 percent. (In the Tribune poll, Emanuel had 49 percent to 19 for Chico, and 10 for Moseley Braun; in the ABC-7 poll, Emanuel has 54 percent, Chico 14, and Moseley Braun 6.)

Those rankings are important because Chico is running hard to keep Rahm below 50 percent and one vote on primary day, Feb. 22, so Chico can force a runoff on April 5. If Moseley Braun comes in second, Chico is out and Moseley Braun remains in the running. She might hope that the black vote will coalesce behind her and pull her over the top on April 5.

I asked McCulloch, a former Huffington Post blogger who claims 25 years of experience in polling, how much the Moseley Braun campaign is paying him for this extra-good-news poll. He wouldn’t say. Perhaps Moseley Braun can commission another poll in the waning days of the campaign that will show her in first place.

The press release McCulloch e-mailed me trumpeted an un-pollster-like bias in favor of the woman who will pay for the poll. “Hold Off On ‘Rahm Coronation,’ ” it warned.