Chicago Teachers Strike Puts Obama in Tough Political Spot

President forced to choose between former chief of staff and hometown teachers union.

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President-elect Barack Obama on Capitol Hill

The Chicago teachers' strike has become a family feud for the Democratic party that is politically dangerous for President Obama's re-election campaign, Democratic strategists say.

On one side is the teachers' union, which is striking over a variety of issues including pay, job security, and teacher accountability. On the other side is Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who says the union demands are excessive and who is pushing for a variety of changes regarding tenure, compensation and other areas that the union opposes.

[Chicago Teacher Fight May Impact Presidential Politics]

Emanuel is Obama's former White House chief of staff and a staunch Obama supporter. The teachers' union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, is a traditional ally of the Democratic party and is also allied politically with Obama, who is from Chicago. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is former chief executive of the Chicago school system..

"It's obviously not helpful for Obama," says William Galston, a political scientist at the Brookings Institution and former White House adviser to President Bill Clinton. Galston says Obama is running a "campaign of mobilization" targeting his base supporters instead of a "campaign of persuasion" that would target undecided voters. As a result, Obama needs to minimize friction within his base and create as much enthusiasm for his re-election as possible. Democratic strategists are concerned that members of the teachers' union may grow increasingly disenchanted with him because he hasn't backed the 26,000 Chicago strikers, and that won't help Obama mobilize teachers on his behalf across the country.

The issue has also gotten wrapped up in efforts by Republican governors in Ohio and Wisconsin to take on public employee organizations, including teachers' unions, in order to save taxpayers money. The governors' battles have been intense and very polarizing, as is the evolving situation in Chicago. The teachers' strike began Monday.

White House Press Secretary declined to discuss the details of the Chicago strike Tuesday and said that Obama's "principal concern" is with the students there.

Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at or on Facebook and Twitter.