09/14/2010 01:04 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Mayor? Polls Chicagoans About Possible Bid

Speculation is growing that Rahm Emanuel will run for mayor of Chicago, as the White House Chief of Staff has hired a pollster to survey Chicagoans about his possible candidacy.

The Chicago Sun-Times's Lynn Sweet is reporting that Stanley Greenberg, Emanuel's "longtime pollster," is calling around the city asking locals about their perceptions of Emanuel and his performance in the White House.

Just over a week ago, there was little talk about the mayoral election in Chicago: it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Chicago's Mayor Richard M. Daley would cruise to a seventh term. But last Tuesday, Daley announced that he would not seek that seventh term, and the city has seen an explosion of political ambition, sometimes from unlikely corners.

Among the people who appear to be running are city clerk Miguel del Valle, U.S. Congressman Luis Gutierrez and former Senator and presidential candidate Carol Moseley Braun, who currently runs an organic food company. Countless others have also expressed interest in the post, although few have officially announced their candidacy.

But it is Emanuel's interest that has garnered the most attention. Earlier in the year, Emanuel openly expressed his interest in being Chicago's mayor, though he said that he wouldn't challenge his good friend Daley. So when Daley announced his retirement, speculation about Emanuel's possible bid grew.

Like so many others, Emanuel has not officially declared his candidacy. His reluctance to do so has prompted persistent questions about his future to nearly everyone in the White House: President Obama said Rahm would be a "terrific" mayor of Chicago, and David Axelrod couldn't appear on television last week without getting an earful on the subject.

Emanuel did, however, win an early poll of the mayoral race conducted by We Ask America, though the candidates it asked about were largely based on speculation.

Lynn Sweet's report that Emanuel is taking his own poll only adds seriousness to the rumors that he is contemplating a run. From Sweet's blog:

Sources told me that polling calls for Emanuel were being made over the weekend and that Emanuel has activated his Chicago network of pals to reach out to political figures in Chicago on his behalf. While Emanuel backed out of a Chicago visit this past weekend, I'm told he will be in Chicago by the end of the month.

Emanuel has some clear advantages over possible contenders in the mayoral contest. First, as a national figure, his name recognition is much higher than his prospective opponents. Also, his $1 million campaign fund is eclipsed only by the baffling $4.4 million held by Chicago's powerful Alderman Ed Burke. Either way, Rahm would almost certainly be able to mobilize volunteers and receive the 12,500 petition signatures necessary to qualify by November 22nd.

But he faces some hurdles, as well. His name came up often during the corruption trial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, and he has some ties to convicted developer Tony Rezko as well. Plus, his tenure in the White House and his reputation as a hard-nosed, politically-minded centrist have cost him support in the progressive community and among the labor unions that still hold ample sway in Chicago.

A lack of strong local support could be a problem for Rahm, as Sweet writes: "A week has passed and no one in his old congressional district, a potential base, has led a call to draft him."

These questions -- perceptions of Rahm's congressional career, of his time at the White House, of his ties to Blago and Rezko -- are exactly the ones that Greenberg is asking Chicagoans this week. Their answers could determine the political future of the 50-year-old chief of staff.