Race for the Whitehouse: Put Your Money on the Chicago Boys

President Barack Obama glances back as he walks through his Hyde Park neighborhood to a campaign event, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012
President Barack Obama glances back as he walks through his Hyde Park neighborhood to a campaign event, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Sometimes in a tight race, the smart thing to do -- if you are the betting type -- is to simply put your money on the best horse. Right now, the race for the Whitehouse appears to be a dead heat, with a recent Real Clear Politics poll average giving 47.3 percent of the vote to each candidate. A coin flip would appear to be as accurate as any prediction. The truth, however, is that in this race, the savvy wager would be to put your money on the Chicago Boys.

More than a year and a half ago, President Obama announced that Chicago would be the home of his campaign re-election headquarters. This made Obama the first sitting president in many decades to campaign for the highest office with a headquarters outside of Washington, D.C. The explanation given was that this decision would place the Democratic team closer to its grassroots supporters. There may be some truth in this perspective, but the real reason for the choice is probably much simpler: Obama wanted to win.

The Chicago Boys have a long history of helping to deliver elections to unlikely candidates.

When John F. Kennedy started campaigning for president in January 1960, the young senator from Massachusetts was considered a long-shot to become the most powerful elected official on the planet. Kennedy ran a brilliant campaign, however, and went on to become both the first Catholic and the youngest man to be elected president of the United States. Many in the press explained Kennedy's narrow defeat of Richard Nixon in the general election by noting the remarkable -- and controversial -- voter turnout, orchestrated by Mayor Richard J. Daley in Chicago. Over a decade later, however, Daley had an unapologetic take on the 1960 convention and his role in the selection of the first Irish-Catholic president of the United States. "I was thinking of my four sons," said the mayor of Chicago, "and I wanted John Kennedy to be their President."

In 2007, some Chicago Boys again backed an unlikely candidate for the nation's highest office. His name was Barack Obama. At that time, he was the sole, black U.S. Senator and he had only two years' experience in that office. What he did have, however, was the backing of David Axelrod, a very talented political strategist from Chicago who had a long track record of winning elections. Axelrod had a genius for molding words and the media's impressions of key political issues. "My expertise is in the areas of language and how to shape issues," Axelrod once said in explaining how he helped to get Rich Daley elected mayor of Chicago in 1989. For Obama, Axelrod served an invaluable role in helping the candidate to create appealing television ads and craft hopeful campaign slogans such as "Change we can believe in" and 'Yes We Can!" Voters found these classic "change agent" messages irresistible, and Axelrod and some other Chicago Boys helped to get Obama elected as the first African-American president of the United States. Axelrod is back in Chicago now, serving as a senior campaign strategist for Obama's re-election fight.

Obama himself also knows how to play campaign hardball -- Chicago-style -- if he needs to. In 1995, during his very first political campaign, Obama knocked Alice Palmer -- a former mentor of his and the sitting Illinois state senator from his district -- off of the ballot. He won.

Another Chicago Boy working to get Obama re-elected is Rahm Emanuel. He and his wide network of political protégées are working toward a Democratic victory in November. Emanuel is actively raising money for a pro-Obama super PAC run by Sean Sweeney, a former top aide of his when he served as White House chief of staff. Jim Messina, another protégée of Emanuel from his time in Obama's White House, is the campaign manager for Obama's entire 2012 re-election effort. Ben LaBolt, who served as Emanuel's communications director during his successful run for Mayor of Chicago, is now campaign press secretary for Obama.

Rahm Emanuel has a thirst for victory and he is 100 percent behind Obama. In 2006, as head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee he delivered an absolutely thumpin' to the Republicans, helping the Democrats pick up 31 seats in the House of Representatives. He did it Chicago-style, without apologies. "You've got to have a thirst for winning," Emanuel said. "You know what our party thinks? We're good people with good ideas. That's just enough, isn't it? Being tough enough, mean enough and vicious enough is just not what they want..."

In 2012, the Chicago Boys will not let their Democratic colleagues go soft and lose. During the homestretch of the presidential race, Obama, Axelrod, Emanuel and Messina will try to bring back their 2008 formula of electoral success: money, message and get out the vote. If this fails to put their jockey in the lead, the Chicago Boys will bury Romney with negative advertising in key markets.

But make no mistake, in this race for Whitehouse, the smart money is on the Boys from Chicago.