WASHINGTON--The day before President Barack Obama visits Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's City Hall was scrambling to throw cold water on a report Emanuel talked to donors about a 2016 White House bid. While it is premature to actually be running, it is not premature to speculate on the 2016 presidential contest.
The Daily Beast reported Thursday afternoon that Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff, "is said by well-connected Democrats to be considering the idea of running for president if Hillary Clinton opts out of the 2016 race."
Emanuel, the story said, "has had discussions both over the phone and face to face in the past month with Democratic Party donors and fundraisers about a possible White House run, according to sources."
1. Emanuel has always been looking ahead in his political career to seize an opportunity should it present itself.
He jumped in a House race for a North Side Chicago seat as soon as it was clear the spot would be open. Once in Congress, he positioned himself to be in line to be House Speaker. Obama derailed that when he tapped Emanuel for chief of staff. The next big opening was Chicago mayor, and Emanuel grabbed that.
Being a senator or governor could only diminish Emanuel because he would have to depend on cooperating partners in Congress or in the Illinois General Assembly. As mayor with a fairly compliant City Council, Emanuel is in a position to call most every shot when it comes to running the city. The only next step for him is president.
2. Denials at this stage are of limited value. See below for the denial the Emanuel team pushed after the Washington Post reported in 2010 that Emanuel --while chief of staff--was telling people he was interested in City Hall. Months later he was in the race.
3. Emanuel swims constantly in the major donor world. Big money donors like to be wooed by people they see as important. So it doesn't hurt Emanuel for him to be mentioned as a 2016 potential even if in public he shrugs it off.
4. Everything is contingent on Hillary Clinton. Emanuel would not be where he is today without Bill Clinton. He moved from Chicago to Little Rock, Ark. to be a fund-raiser for Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign and landed in the White House after the win, setting the stage for him to in later years mass a personal fortune and launch a political career.
5. I will let Obama have the last word when it comes to denials. Shortly after being elected a senator from Illinois, the Sun-Times reported that Obama said he was not going to run for president.
And on January 22, 2006, on NBC's "Meet the Press," Obama has this exchange with the late Tim Russert:
Russert: "When we talked back in November of '04, after your election, I said, "There's been enormous speculation about your political future. Will you serve your full six-year term as a United States senator from Illinois?" Obama: "Absolutely."
Obama: "I will serve out my full six-year term. You know, Tim, if you get asked enough, sooner or later you get weary and you start looking for new ways of saying things, but my thinking has not changed."
Russert: "But, but--so you will not run for president or vice president in 2008?"
Obama: "I will not."
Now let's take a look at what I reported last night after the Daily Beast story was posted.
"He's not running for president," Emanuel spokesman Sarah Hamilton told me, the same denial that's been issued in the past when Emanuel presidential talk flares up.
Still, to recap: last May, Emanuel signed a note for Sun-Times City Hall Reporter Fran Spielman that said "I, Rahm Emanuel, will not run for another office -- EVER."
Emanuel close friend and top advisor David Axelrod--who is also Obama's top strategist told Spielman Thursday night, "I consider myself pretty close to him,and this would be news to me," said David Axelrod, Emanuel's former White House colleague and friend of 30 years. "Right now his concerns are pretty close to home."
Asked about the constant speculation that Emanuel has his eyes on a presidential run, Axelrod said "That's the kind of buzz that will always be around him."
Emanuel does almost all his fund-raising events in secret and conducted many of his solicitations for Obama's SuperPac last year over the phone. What is at issue here is what Emanuel may have been saying to the donor world--not whether he is "running."
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has laughed off every question she's been asked about any 2016 ambitions and that hasn't done anything to douse speculation she may make another White House bid.
In other words, for mega political figures like Clinton and Emanuel--who have vast access to donor networks--one does not run at this stage. One must just exist.
And when it comes to the denial department, Emanuel has a track record that is spotty.
In early 2010, the Washington Post's Sally Quinn reported that "Emanuel is said to have told people that the chief-of-staff role is an 18-month job and that he is considering a run for mayor of Chicago."
Emanuel and his team at the time issued strong denials and did everything they could to shoot down Quinn's story.
Until he started running for mayor.