The heartland is always sending politicians to Washington. So it's only fair that from time to time the capital send one back.
That's reason enough for White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to leave his job as the second-most powerful person in the country and return to his hometown to try to be the most powerful person in Chicago.
Emanuel had never made any secret of his desire to be mayor of the Windy City, but the job was occupied, as it has been for all but 13 of the last 55 years, by a member of the Daley family. And the Daleys, it was believed, don't ever leave once they've won that first election.
The senior Daley, Richard J., only left office because he died in it. His son, Richard M., was first elected in 1989, regularly re-elected — the last time by a margin of more than 70 percent — and, at age 68, seemed comfortably set to cruise to a seventh term in 2011 and beyond.
But even his inner circle was stunned when Daley abruptly announced he wouldn't run next year, offering only the cryptic explanation, "It's time for Chicago to move on. I've given it my all."
Emanuel, a one-time member of Congress and Daley campaign fundraiser, has strong political ties to Chicago. Daley has declined to endorse anyone in the Democratic primary, but if Emanuel prevails he could realistically expect strong support from the Daley machine in the general election.
To get to that point, however, won't be a walk in the park. Reports from Chicago say he could face credible opposition from Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.
Emanuel has yet to say what he'll do — friends and colleagues almost unanimously think he will run. In a statement on the announcement, he avoided the question but did have praise for Daley — "his leadership, dedication and tireless work on behalf of the city and the people of Chicago."
Emanuel has to decide by Nov. 22, the filing deadline.
If he runs, it solves a couple of problems for President Barack Obama. Emanuel was expected to leave a job with a high burnout rate by mid-2011 in any event. If the November elections go as badly for the White House as expected, Emanuel will be able to skip town in advance of the blame game. Obama will be under huge pressure to shake up his staff and Emanuel's vacancy would enable him to bring in a high-profile new chief of staff, creating the appearance of a shakeup without actually having to fire anybody.
And Emanuel would be free to pursue his dream title — Mayor Rahm.