Conversely, Hess says if Emanuel backs down or prominent Democrats back away from talking about the fight "it's going to look like the Democrats can't actually hold onto it when rubber meets the road, they can be rolled by the unions."
Jaime Dominguez, a political science professor at Northwestern University, says though conservatives will seek to make political hay, the issue really is just a local one. But he adds there is at least one national element – Emanuel's political future.
"It's become very clear to folks that are interested in this that Rahm Emanuel is going to use this as a platform if and when he chooses to run for higher office," Dominguez says. "This is an issue that really cuts at the heart of what's happening nationally given the tough economic times and the importance of public education. How are you going to deal with such matters?"
By going toe-to-toe with the teachers union, Emanuel could prove to independents he's not willing to pander, but it doesn't come without risk.
"He's in a very tenuous position right now," Dominguez says. "He wants to appear union friendly but at the same time when he was running came across as a no-nonsense mayor who was going to move things forward quickly without any kind of disruption. This cuts at the core of that."
Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter.