CHICAGO (WLS) -- A new poll in the race for Chicago mayor suggests that Paul Vallas may be solidifying his frontrunner status. And even if Mayor Lori Lightfoot makes the runoff, her chances at re-election may be dimming.
With 11 days until Election Day, the race for mayor shows only five of the nine candidates polling in double figures and the number of undecided voters is shrinking. What's unclear is how much the race might change between now and February 28.
2023 Chicago Mayoral Election: Latest poll shows tight race between Lightfoot, Garcia and Vallas
Vallas is heading down the home stretch in the race, with his polling numbers continuing to grow.
The latest independent poll by Victory Research shows Vallas in front with 22.%, followed by Lori Lightfoot at 17.1%, and Brandon Johnson a point behind her. Chuy Garcia and Willie Wilson round out the top five, and no other candidate is in double figures.
"I think Paul has solidified himself as the front runner in the race with his message of law and order," said Rod McCulloch, a pollster at Victory Research. "It appears unless something changes that Paul Vallas will be in the runoff with someone. I don't know who that is, lots of candidates are close enough to be there."
But Vallas is now fending off new criticism because of his endorsement from the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police. The FOP invited members to a scheduled visit by Florida Governor and presumed Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis, who is coming to Elmhurst on Monday, President's Day, to meet behind closed doors with law enforcement members.
While campaigning on the North Side Friday, Jesus "Chuy" Garcia denounced the visit and attacked Vallas.
"Obviously it's meant to have some sort of a political impact in Chicago, but it certainly raises the questions again about whether Vallas is a trustworthy candidate, whether as he claims he's a lifelong Democrat," Garcia said.
In a statement, Vallas distanced himself from DeSantis, saying: "I wholeheartedly agree with Governor Pritzker that there is simply no place in Chicago for a right-wing extremist like Ron DeSantis, and I am disappointed in FOP leadership for inviting him to speak to officers."
McCullough said his polling shows Johnson could be the sleeper candidate. That may be why Mayor Lightfoot is directing her latest digital attack ad at him over Johnson's comments about defunding police. Johnson is now out with his own ad attacking Lightfoot over crime.
McCulloch's poll shows that Lightfoot would lose to each of the other top four candidates in a runoff, with Vallas beating her most handily, by 19 points, and the closest race being with Willie Wilson.
"Lori Lightfoot seems to have a problem if she makes the runoff," McCulloch said, "in that a majority of voters, more than 54%, say they wouldn't vote for her under any circumstances."
And while the polls show Lightfoot losing the runoff to any of the other top four candidates, he offered this insight:
"I don't believe the mayor is in the front running right now, but I do think that she's viable to be in the runoff. I do believe that. And people who discount her, do so at their own peril," he said.
Garcia, the one-time front runner, is now trying to downplay the poll.
"The next 10 days will be critical," Garcia said. "We're going to be up competing for all of those voters in the next few days."
McCulloch said he does not expect the numbers will change much between now and Election Day, which is shaping up to be a runoff between Paul Vallas and whoever can pull off second place.