The Daley political machine in Chicago has thrown its support behind presidential candidate Barack Obama, forging an alliance that could make him the next president.
Although the machine supported Obama's rivals early in his political career, viewing him as an outsider, Obama's success on the national stage has changed all that.
“It’s a simple political calculus,” Jay Stewart, executive director of the Chicago-based watchdog group Better Government Association, tells NewsMax. “Here is a popular guy with a reasonable shot at winning, from the same party. It's good for Illinois if he wins. So the machine [and] the mayor [are] backing Obama.”
Stewart adds that Obama has cultivated a “peaceful coexistence” with the Daley machine, without becoming one of its operatives.
So who controls Obama? And to whom might he be beholden?
Obama's charisma and savvy have given him more flexibility in dealing with the realities of getting elected, sources tell NewsMax.
His charm has elicited geysers of support from smitten voters. The conventional wisdom holds that Obama's political fortunes aren't dependent on ward bosses, meaning that the senator can distance himself from the political corruption for which the city is infamous.
“There is no back-room cabal that engineered the Obama candidacy,” says Stewart. “He has been swept along by his own personal popularity, and clearly his campaign has been driven simply by his own personal appeal to many. The old rules don’t apply to this guy.”
Some political veterans say that Obama “had to play the game as it existed” in Chicago and Illinois. They add that Obama has so many powerful friends that he should be viewed as more of an insider than an outsider.
“He has never been viewed as a total guy one way or the other in the various camps here in the state,” says one longtime observer of Chicago's political scene, who asked not to be identified. “He is a very savvy guy and negotiated his way through numerous elections, doing so by making as many friends and playing it clean enough. But he knows how to raise money.”
The Daley Power
John Kass, a Chicago Tribune political columnist, has described “the Chicago way,” in which the Daley machine gets every public project, large or small, completed only after the proper palms have been greased -- and “in which business and real estate become dependent on politics and favors.”
Obama's relationship with Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley illustrates how he has carefully joined hands with Chicago's power wielders.
Daley had little use for Obama when he first entered Illinois politics. His organization already had its candidates lined up, and didn't need Obama's help.
In 2000, Obama ran against Rep. Bobby Rush, trying to win his seat in Congress. Obama had little support from the Daley machine. Rush received the support of the powerful Cook County Board president, and defeated Obama and other rivals in the primary.
In 2004, when Obama ran for the U.S. Senate, he faced the Daley machine once again. Daley didn't support Obama.
Daley's brother, Cook County Board Finance Committee Chairman John Daley, sided with Obama's opponent in the primary, State Comptroller Dan Hynes. Hynes is the son of longtime Democratic machine pol Tom Hynes.
It is a measure of Obama's strength among African-American voters -- augmented by his close friendship with Chicago talk show host Oprah Winfrey, and his prominent membership in a black megachurch led by his mentor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright -- that he defeated Hynes in the primaries.
Obama won 53 percent of the primary vote to Hynes' 24 percent. In the general election, Daley reluctantly threw his support to Obama, who went on to win the general election in a landslide.
He owed his victory largely to a coalition of African-Americans, Chicago “lakefront liberals,” and other progressives. That the large primary field split the white vote helped as well.
Hynes later urged Obama to run for president. "Barack Obama is a man for these times," Hynes said in September 2006, as reported by the Chicago Sun-Times. "He and he alone can restore the hope and optimism that made this country great."
As Obama started winning elections and acquiring powerful friends, the word got back to Daley: This guy can keep winning.
By that point, however, others had invested in Obama's future, and Daley's opportunity to control Obama had slipped away.
A Bump in the Road
The Obama-Daley détente was nearly derailed in August 2005, according to the Sun-Times.
Obama told the newspaper that an investigation of alleged corruption at City Hall would give him "huge pause" about endorsing Daley's mayoral re-election campaign.
"An hour after making those remarks," the Sun-Times later reported, "he called the Sun-Times saying he wanted to clarify his remarks."
Obama clarified that while Daley was "obviously going through a rough patch right now," Chicago had "never looked better." He added that talk of an endorsement was premature.
That all changed in December 2006, when Daley said he planned to endorse Obama over Sen. Hillary Clinton.
A month later, Obama returned the favor, endorsing Daley's mayoral re-election campaign in glowing terms.
"I don't think there's a city in America that has blossomed as much over the last couple of decades than Chicago -- and a lot of that has to do with our mayor," Obama said.
With those words, the courtship of Obama and Daley had officially begun. Daley could dream of having a close ally in the Oval Office, while Obama knew he would need Daley's help to get there.
“This is a make-up endorsement,” Larry Sabato, one of the nation’s premier political scientists, tells NewsMax.
Sabato, whose most recent book is A More Perfect Constitution, explains that the marriage of convenience simply suits both candidates' interests. Of Daley's reversal, given his past support for Obama's rivals, Sabato says: “It’s the logical thing for Daley to do; it’s the logical thing for anyone to do."
The African-American Factor
In addition to Daley's support and unprecedented donations from small donors, Obama has relied on influential African-Americans to open doors.
According to Capitol Hill sources, atop the list is Vernon Jordan, who chaired Bill Clinton’s presidential transition team after the 1992 election.
Jordan, a fixture among D.C. power brokers, opened the door for Obama in the fall of 2003, holding a fundraiser at his house for about 20 key fixers, donors, and lobbyists.
That started the D.C. dominos falling.
Jordan led Obama to Gregory Craig, an attorney with the Williams & Connolly firm and another longtime Democratic heavyweight. Craig had worked with Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, a pivotal figure still in the progressive circle.
Craig, who also served as special counsel in the White House where he had coordinated Clinton’s impeachment defense, met Obama at the Jordan event.
Another early navigator was Mike Williams, vice president for legislative affairs at The Bond Market Association and a member of an African-American lobbying association.
Williams set up a conference call between Obama and a group of financial-industry lobbyists. Later, Williams helped organize a fundraiser for Obama at The Bond Market Association that drew more than 200 Washington insiders.
One of those insiders was Larry Duncan, an African-American lobbyist for Lockheed Martin. He helped Williams organize the affair and touted Obama at several D.C. law firms, including Venable LLP. Venable is considered one of the top firms in the country, and includes Lockheed Martin among its powerful clients.
The next domino attending that fundraiser was Tom Quinn, a senior partner at Venable and widely considered one of the top lobbyists in town.
Quinn works closely with the Democratic National Committee and has been a party power broker since the late 1960s, when he worked on the presidential campaign of then vice-president Hubert Humphrey. Quinn contributed money and later made calls to raise donations.
Next to come was Robert Harmala, another huge player in Democratic circles and a colleague of Quinn’s at Venable. Harmala donated money to Obama and made calls to a number of political donors in California to help open that state up to Obama.
Obama’s latest power-broker addition: Moses Mercado, a big-time lobbyist with Ogilvy Governmental Relations. Mercado’s clients include the National Rifle Association, Pfizer, the Blackstone Group, Monsanto, the Carlyle Group, and Constellation Energy.
Despite having challenged the power brokers by previously taking on incumbents, or opposing Daley-anointed candidates, Obama has cunningly mended fences. He now has almost all of the state’s most important politicians lined up to support his run for president.
An example of the Illinois senator's ability to turn rivals into allies: His former rival, Rush, now supports Obama’s White House bid.
Obama has also won the support of William Daley, one of the mayor's brothers. A former U.S. Commerce Secretary during the Clinton administration who also was chairman of Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign, Daley is a key player on Obama's team and brings massive business connections to the table.
William Daley has been widely described in media reports as a "friend" of Obama's, and he lends substance to the candidate's economic policies.
One Chicagoland insider who appears to have mixed feelings about Obama's success is Rep. Rahm Emanuel, one the reigning Democratic strategists.
“The running joke is that Rahm wants to hide under his desk at this point,” one political observer comments with a laugh, a reference to Emanuel's loyalties to both Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Emanuel owes a debt to the Clintons for his success, yet has helped Obama become a rising national star. To date, Emanuel has withheld giving either candidate his endorsement.
Although Obama insists he is the candidate of change, the old-fashioned ways of Chicago politics -- having powerful friends in high places -- have suited Obama well in his bid to win the highest office in the land.
Obama astutely realized that he needed big money to be taken seriously, and enlisted big-name supporters -- from Oprah to D.C. lobbyists -- to help him magnify his visibility, and his bank account.
His ability to win converts has extended to people like Penny Pritzker, the Hyatt Hotel heiress. A huge name in Chicago business circles, she bumped into Obama at a sporting event, and now heads his national finance team.
Another powerful Obama ally is Emil Jones, who became the Illinois state Senate president and was one of Obama’s first patrons and mentors.
Those friends are one reason Obama broke fundraising records early in the 2008 presidential race.
“It’s the black base,” says Gerald Rosenberg, a professor of political science and law at the University of Chicago. Having that initial base support permitted Obama to do what he does very well, Rosenberg says -- “cross racial lines and to give people hope.
“In the [Senate] primary, what was surprising is how well he ran downstate, against white opponents,” Rosenberg notes.
Rosenberg says Obama's ability to bridge diverse cultures may enable him to avoid the snares of corruption and financial chicanery that seemingly festoon the Second City's traditional, machine-driven politics.
That's important, because voters are weary of scandal and looking for a change.
“Illinois is not Louisiana,” Sabato says. “There probably is less to uncover to Obama. I’m not saying there is nothing there. He doesn’t have that many elections under his belt; he has not had to go out and campaign election after election. He is relatively fresh and this is where ‘inexperience’ helps.”
Sabato adds that Obama's newcomer role also will make it easier for him to weather the storm, if and when he has to jettison a controversial financial supporter.
“There isn’t a major politician who hasn’t had a financial scandal or two, or who doesn’t have one to uncover,” Sabato says. “It’s still out there.”
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