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Rahm Emanuel goes to bat for Obama during campaign

President Barack Obamtalks with Mayor Rahm Emanuel after arriving O'Hare International Airport 2011. Both are supporters University Chicago Crime Lab

President Barack Obama talks with Mayor Rahm Emanuel after arriving at O'Hare International Airport in 2011. Both are supporters of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, awarded a $1 million MacArthur Foundation grant on Wednesday. | Associated Press files

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Updated: August 23, 2012 10:52AM

WASHINGTON — Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s role in President Barack Obama’s campaign will grow — as time permits — to be a top surrogate on TV, at fund-raisers and outreach events.

“I will do what they ask because I think it is in the self-interest of the city to have the president re-elected,” Emanuel told me on Friday before he set off to meet with administration officials he knows well — Homeland Security’s Janet Napolitano, Transportation’s Ray LaHood, Energy’s Stephen Chu and Federal Communications Chairman Julius Genachowski.

“ . . . My main goal is the city, [Obama] knows that, David [Axelrod] knows that,” Emanuel said.

“ . . . Whatever the president needs me to do, as long as it does not take away from what I got to do at the city, I’m going to help him, because it is in our self interest.”

Emanuel is in a category of one in the Obama orbit: A big-city mayor. A confidant of Obama and Axelrod, Obama’s top strategist. If he has an idea for the campaign, I am told, he is not shy about punching up the phone.

Most central, Emanuel, a former Obama White House chief of staff, can speak from firsthand knowledge about the administrations’ policies and accomplishments.

He can deliver the campaign message without mouthing overused talking points.

As he did last Sunday, when Emanuel, while guesting on ABC’s “This Week” told Mitt Romney pithily to “Stop whining” about the Obama team assault on his record at the helm of Bain Capital.

“He did not use the antiseptic poll-tested boring cliché or talking points. He used real people terms and it means something,” said Chris Lehane, a Democratic consultant who worked with Emanuel in the Clinton White House.

So far, Emanuel’s biggest events for Obama were keynoting the Iowa Democratic Party’s 2011 Jefferson-Jackson dinner last November and headlining fund-raising events in New York and Chicago. He plans on attending the Democratic convention in Charlotte — where he is likely to speak and help in high-end fund-raising.

Presuming no crisis in Chicago — such as a teachers strike later this year — I wondered where Emanuel could impact the most if he has time to travel for the campaign. I interviewed several consultants and wired-in donors and here’s the consensus:

He could be most useful in cities in battleground states: Philadelphia, Denver and Cleveland, for example. His draw is strongest with young professionals between 30 and 50 years old and older business leaders who want to hear from an insider.

Emanuel would be a hit in Las Vegas because Emanuel’s political celebrity-hood suits the town and he would be good in an area with many Hispanics (Chicago is a sanctuary city) and a substantial Jewish community.

Florida could be a little tricky, especially in areas in southern Florida with Jewish voters who are critics of Obama’s approach when it comes to Israel.

I asked Emanuel if he thought he could help Obama with Jewish voters in battleground states. “That depends on what the voters think of me,” he said with a laugh. Said Axelrod, “I would not hesitate to put him in front of a Jewish audience because he speaks from a place of knowledge and conviction.”

Axelrod told me the Obama team is “respectful [Emanuels’] fundamental focus and time is right here in Chicago. We are mindful of that. So we are not asking him to do that much.”

When the time comes, “I guarantee you he will be out there,” Axelrod said.“He has insights into Obama . . . that are valuable and important, and secondly he’s got his own idiosyncratic but effective way of communicating that really gets the message across.”

Said Lehane, “Rahm is one of the few that could actually go into these key swing states, these markets and get covered and actually have something relevant to say. You would have a high degree of confidence that not only would he hit the target, he would hit the bulls-eye. He could potentially move the dial as a surrogate, which is a hard thing to do.”

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