The announcement is sure to test Team Obama’s unity—and could speed up the timetable for a major shakeup of the White House political operation, rumored to be coming as soon as the midterm balloting is over.

Richard Wolffe |Daily Beast columnist

Is Emanuel simply talking about a childhood ambition?

Rahm Emanuel the Chicago native and one-time local congressman may have helped push through the massive Recovery Act in the early days of the Obama administration. And he might have been a vital player in getting Congress to pass health care reform. But he’s made little secret of his long-held dream to run for mayor. Just four months ago, he told PBS’s Charlie Rose that he missed running for office and the contact with constituents. “First of all, let me say it this way, I hope Mayor Daley seeks reelection. I will work and support him if he seeks reelection,” he said. “But if Mayor Daley doesn’t, one day I would like to run for mayor of the City of Chicago. That’s always been an aspiration of mine even when I was in the House of Representatives.”

The White House moved quickly to quash speculation that Emanuel might actually jump, dismissing the idea as “silliness.” Deputy press secretary Bill Burton told reporters that Emanuel was simply talking about a childhood ambition. “It’s something that many kids in Chicago dream of growing up to be a mayor, so it’s one of the great jobs in American politics,” he said. “But it’s just an ambition. When I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut.”

Now Emanuel is far closer to becoming mayor than Burton is to flying into orbit. In a statement, Emanuel pointedly avoided any reference to his own ambition, saying only that he was surprised by Daley’s decision not to run. “While Mayor Daley surprised me today with his decision to not run for reelection, I have never been surprised by his leadership, dedication and tireless work on behalf of the city and the people of Chicago,” he said. In other words, he left the door wide open—and the White House will have a much tougher time selling the idea that Emanuel plans to stick around for another year.

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