Winning in a Crowded Field: Rahm Emanuel


In 2011, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner played a critical role in developing a strategic framework and targeting strategy for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in his successful campaign to succeed long-time Mayor Richard M. Daley (a client since 1995). After more than two decades in office, Mayor Daley’s decision to retire left the city with its first wide open contest for mayor in a generation. 

With Chicago facing many of the serious fiscal challenges affecting big cities across the country, voters were looking for a candidate who could keep the city working together and put it back on the right track. In conjunction with a strong team of advisers, GQR conducted an extensive research program on behalf of Emanuel’s campaign, including both quantitative and qualitative research. Because of Chicago’s great diversity, the research program included focus groups with voters from every corner of the city and significant oversampling of different neighborhoods and ethnic communities. 

In the years before Mayor Daley took office in 1989, Chicago was wracked by political tension and dysfunction, with many of the fault lines divided by race and cultural identity. Emanuel began his campaign committed to reach out to voters in every neighborhood and avoid a divisive identity-based campaign. Through our research, we helped create a message framework for the campaign that emphasized the candidate’s core assets, including his strength, his ties to the city, and his willingness to make difficult decisions while making it clear that Emanuel’s vision for the city included every neighborhood sharing in a better future. The campaign focused that framework on three key issues: getting the city’s finances in order to create jobs, improving schools, and keeping the streets safe.

In the end, Emanuel won a first-round victory by winning an outright majority of 55 percent in a 6-candidate field that included a citywide elected official, a former Chief of Staff to Mayor Daley, and a former U.S. Senator. Emanuel carried 40 of the city’s 50 wards, besting his nearest competitor by more than 30 points. He won by wide margins in nearly every region of the city, including the majority African-American communities on the South and West side, predominantly white liberal neighborhoods along the city’s Lakefront, and white, ethnic working class neighborhoods in the northwest part of Chicago.


Image Credit: Daniel X. O'Neil