CHICAGO -- When it comes to how national Democratic leaders measure up on income inequality and other economic populist themes, Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's main challenger, doesn't mince words.

Just take his view on President Obama, who supports Emanuel, his former chief of staff, and will be in town later this week.

"It's disappointing," Garcia told The Washington Post in an interview between campaign stops Tuesday. "I don't think that he has signaled a clear direction or demonstrated enough empathy for how much people have suffered."

Has he heard much on the same issues from Hillary Clinton, the presumed Democratic frontrunner for president?

"Not yet," he said as he hopped out of an SUV into a dusting of snow.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) "has been more forthcoming on talking about it thus far," Garcia said. "But I haven't heard that much conversation yet."

Garcia, a Cook County commissioner, has emerged as the strongest Emanuel challenger ahead of next Tuesday's election. Polling shows the mayor hovering around the 50 percent mark he needs to clear in order to avoid a runoff, leaving plenty of uncertainty about whether he will face a one-on-one battle for another six weeks.

On Thursday, Obama will be here to designate the historic Pullman Park district as a national monument. The president has voiced a radio ad encouraging voters to support Emanuel.

Backed by the Chicago Teachers Union and many liberal activists, Garcia has pitched himself as a mayor "for all of us," and sought to portray Emanuel as beholden to moneyed interests. Emanuel, meanwhile, has cast Garcia as a tax-raiser who voted to increase his own pay.

National Democrats, said Garcia, have fallen short of explaining the severe impact of the 2008 financial crisis on middle class Americans, and the party's messaging has not been "consistent" in economic issues.

"I don't think that the national leaders have truly felt and understood the impact that the great recession has had on people, and have certainly not articulated how serious it has been and what a setback it has been for the middle class and working class people and the poor in cities like Chicago," he said.