Poll shows Rep. Luis Gutiérrez as front-runner in Chicago mayoral race

Poll shows Rep. Luis Gutiérrez as front-runner in Chicago mayoral race

A new survey of Chicago voters shows that Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) is the early favorite to succeed outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) — a curious distinction given that Gutiérrez has not even entered the race.

Emanuel’s surprise announcement last week that he won’t pursue a third term sparked frenzied interest among a long and growing list of Chicago officials, activists and entrepreneurs who have already jumped into the contest.

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But Gutiérrez, who is retiring from Congress in January after 13 terms, initially rejected the notion that he wanted the job.

On Wednesday, the morning after Emanuel’s announcement, Gutiérrez told The Hill that he’s laser-focused on next year’s move to Puerto Rico, where his parents were born, to work pro bono for an advocacy group helping to register and energize Hispanic voters ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

“Everybody wants me to run,” Gutiérrez said at the time, his phone blowing up in his hand. “I’m not. I’m focused.”

Yet, just hours later, Gutiérrez had warmed to the idea, telling Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times that he’s listening to supporters and mulling the option.

“I am not going to open up a campaign,” he told Sweet on Wednesday afternoon. “I am simply going to continue to talk.”

Some of Gutiérrez’s Democratic colleagues were quick to nudge him in that direction. Walking past him in a hallway on Capitol Hill last week, Rep. Yvette ClarkeYvette Diane ClarkePoll shows Rep. Luis Gutiérrez as front-runner in Chicago mayoral race Overnight Defense: Officials rush to deny writing anonymous op-ed | Lawmakers offer measure on naming NATO headquarters after McCain | US, India sign deal on sharing intel Dems plan resolution to withdraw US forces from Yemen civil war MORE (D-N.Y.) had already adopted a new greeting.

“Good morning, Mr. Mayor,” she said.

The new poll will surely fuel his interest.

Conducted last week by the bipartisan firm Raba Research, the survey found that among a field of six top contenders to replace Emanuel, 21 percent of Chicago voters favor Gutiérrez, making him the early favorite. Garry McCarthy, Chicago’s former police superintendent who was fired by Emanuel, came in second at 18 percent, followed by Toni Preckwinkle, president of the Cook County Board, at 16 percent.

The poll results, first reported by Crain’s Chicago Business on Monday, also measured voter interest in Lori Lightfoot, former president of the Chicago Police Board (10 percent); Paul Vallas, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools (10 percent); and City Treasurer Kurt Summers (4 percent).

The survey, which has a margin of error of 4 percentage points, did not present voters with the names of the long list of additional candidates vying for the mayor’s office, including Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown; community activist Amara Enyia and Matthew Roney, a 20-year-old political science student at DePaul University.

A separate poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling for the Service Employees International Union, found that a large number of voters remain undecided ahead of the February election — a dynamic that might also entice Gutiérrez to jump into the race. That survey found Preckwinkle in the lead with 25 percent, while 19 percent of respondents were undecided.

Gutiérrez was not listed in the poll, which had a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.

Gutiérrez’s showing in the Raba poll, despite his non-candidacy, highlights the power of name recognition in electoral politics. Since first coming to Congress in 1993, Gutiérrez has carved out a fitting reputation as an unyielding fighter for immigrant rights and a thorn in the side of anyone — even fellow Democrats — who would stand in his way. He tours regularly around the country promoting the issue, and his constant appearances on Hispanic news shows have made him a celebrity in the Latino community, both in Chicago and beyond.

That familiarity to voters would be a boon to a mayoral run, and Gutiérrez's popularity in his district — a gerrymandered horseshoe of a region in central Chicago where the population is more than 70 percent Hispanic — would lend him a clear head-start.

Whether Gutiérrez ultimately seeks the mayor’s office remains to be seen. But sources close to him say he’s taking a much closer look than he was just a week ago.

"He has received a lot of calls encouraging him to run or offering support if he does run,” a person familiar with Gutiérrez's thinking said Monday. “I don't know how seriously he is considering it, but he is at least considering it."