Inside internal polls in the race for Chicago Mayor

CHICAGO --  It is rare for a political campaign to release internal polling. They hold the number close to the vest. But this week two campaign leaked their numbers to influence the early campaign narrative.

It was an early skirmish in the what’s likely to be a brutal campaign for Chicago mayor.

Lori Lightfoot released private campaign poll numbers that showed Mayor Emanuel in trouble.

Just a 32 percent approval rating for Emanuel and a 36 percent favorable rating.

Betty O’Shaughnessy, who co-authored the book “Winning Elections in the 21st Century” says Lightfoot put out her numbers hoping to influence campaign coverage.

“I think she wanted to show that he wasn’t an invincible candidate,” O’Shaughnessy said.

The mayor’s campaign hit back Wednesday and released its own internal polling showing better numbers.  They have the mayor’s approval rating at 43 percent with a 45 percent favorable mark.

Experts say incumbents with an approval below 50 percent shows great weakness but longtime strategist Michael Golden said Emanuel remains formidable.

“I can tell you one thing about Rahm Emanuel having worked for him when he was national party chair in 2006 when Democrats took back the House and worked against him in 2011 in the mayoral race, you never count him out,” said Michael Golden, President Golden Mean Strategies. “So no matter what those numbers are he is as cagey a politician as comes beyond just being the mayor and an elected official, he’s his own best strategist.”

So far it is a crowded field with 10 candidates. If no one gets a majority of votes during the February election there will be a runoff in April.

To survive until then, building a campaign infrastructure and courting voters, the challengers must compete with Emanuel’s enormous fundraising edge. The mayor’s campaign has more than $8 million in the bank.

“Ad campaigns cost a ton in this market,” Golden said. “All of those candidates are going to have to raise a hell of a lot more money to compete with Rahm and get their message out if they want to get in the runoff.”

O’Shaughnessy said the campaigns will employ traditional strategies trying to court African Americans and Latinos, but she thinks there will be a special interest in winning women.

“The more women you get the better off you’re going to be because, I think, women right now are really pumped to get something done,” she said. “I anticipate that Rahm Emanuel is going to come out with something that’s going to make women very, very happy.”