President Barack Obama hauled in more than $2 million during a quick downtown Chicago fundraising stop today while Republicans Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum criticized his leadership at stops in the suburbs.
Obama, who said it was good to be home, referred to his potential GOP foes this fall in passing at the top of his 30-minute speech.
"We've had some guests," Obama said. "My message to all the candidates is 'welcome to the Land of Lincoln.' Maybe some Lincoln will rub off on them while they're here."
Before Obama walked into the packed ballroom at the Palmer House Hilton, those in attendance watched a Tom Hanks-narrated documentary about Obama's first term in office. Earlier, in a stop in Rosemont, Republican Mitt Romney dismissed the film as "a docu-mmercial."
In Arlington Heights tonight, Santorum got a prolonged standing ovation from about 800 people at Christian Liberty Academy.
Santorum quickly contrasted his campaign with Romney's better funded organization, asking attendees if they had seen any television ads and gotten any phone calls lately.
"Our weapon is not money. Our secret weapon is sitting right out here, all across this state, all across this country," he said to applause.
Santorum drew more loud cheers when he mentioned that he and his wife had home schooled their children.
During Santorum's speech, two men stood up, yelled something toward the stage, embraced and kissed, then were led from the gym as the crowd first booed then began chanting "USA."
Santorum paused, then picked up his speech where he left off without addressing the incident.
Earlier at the Obama event, Both the film and the president highlighted some of his accomplishments since taking office, including passing health care reform, ending the war in Iraq, and the auto industry bailout.
Obama gave a round of shout-outs to the elected officials in attendance, including Gov. Pat Quinn; County Board President Toni Preckwinkle; and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who was Obama's seat mate when they both served in the Illinois Senate, introduced the president.
Tickets for the luncheon of more than 600 attendees started at $2,500, according to a campaign official. Afterward, Obama held a smaller roundtable discussion with 60 supporters, where tickets started at $10,000.
All of the money raised from today's events will go to Obama's Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee authorized by Obama for America and the Democratic National Committee, the campaign official said.
Obama was scheduled to head to Atlanta for three back-to-back fundraisers this evening -- an intimate gathering at a private residence, followed by a campaign event at Tyler Perry Studios, and another affair at a private residence.
Romney stopped at a Rosemont diner this morning before heading to Puerto Rico, which holds caucuses Sunday.
Santorum is making two stops in Arlington Heights: an afternoon speech to students at Hersey High School and a nighttime rally at Christian Liberty Academy. After spending Saturday morning in Missouri, which is holding caucuses, Santorum has a southern Illinois swing on his schedule.
Romney was the first to hit Illinois today, arriving at the packed Pancakes Eggcetera restaurant in Rosemont around 7 a.m. He briefly addressed more than 100 supporters gathered outside the restaurant before going inside for an interview with Fox and Friends.
"This is a critical time, and I think you know that," Romney told the crowd before criticizing a documentary released today by the Obama campaign that Romney dismissed as "a docu-mmercial."
"Mr. Guggenheim who put it together said you know, that the hard thing about this documentary was that he could find nothing negative to say about the president. He might want to talk to some soccer moms who are having a hard time filling up their car to get their kids to practice. And the families wondering if they can get to and from work given the cost of gasoline. Or 24 million Americans out of work or underemployed in this county.
"So we've got a few things to tell the president. We're going to take back this country and make sure we remain the strong and free nation we've always been."
Romney later met with diners inside the restaurant, shaking hands and posing for pictures. He was joined by Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford, who is the chairman of Romney's Illinois campaign efforts.
Romney again attacked the Obama video as a "infomercial" and repeated the earlier talking points about expensive gas. He also criticized Obama for not extending the Canadian pipeline. "This president has failed us when it comes to gasoline an energy," Romney said. "That's one reason we have to replace Barack Obama.
"He's out there pushing for alternative energy and we're here pushing for an alternative president. We're going to get a new president."
Romney repeated his theme that Obama is an "economic lightweight," saying the president has never worked in the private sector. Romney talked up his buisness record as well as work on Olympics and as governor, saying he has real world experience instead of debating the economy in Congress.
"We're not going to be successful in replacing an economic lightweight if we nominate an economic lightweight," Romney said. "I am an economic heavyweight."
Romney also asked attendees to make sure they vote on Tuesday before taking a dig at Chicago's history of voter fraud.
"I need you to vote, and by the way you're allowed to vote multiple times. By,by getting a friend to go with you," Romney joked. "I know this is Chicago. I had to clarify."
Joan McCarthy of Wilmette brought her two daughters to see Romney. She held a handwritten "Moms 4 Romney" sign and said she supported him because of his stance on the budget.
"I think Mitt Romney is fabulous," McCarthy said. "I love his campaign slogan... 'We have a moral responsibility not to spend more than we take in.' Which I think is great. We do that fiscally in our household."
Romney's appearance also brought about a dozen protesters led by Democratic U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who opposes Romney's stance on birth control and Planned Parenthood.
"We want the people in my district, in Illinois and around the country, particularly women, to know that Mitt Romney is too extreme for women," Schakowsky said. "He wants to rollback the access to birth control, he wants to get rid of Planned Parenthood. This is health care for women."
Out in Arlington Heights this afternoon, Santorum spoke to Hersey students as part of the school's annual election project.
He opened his remarks by mentioning he graduated from Carmel High School in Mundelein, then began a series of criticisms of President Barack Obama.
Obama practices the politics of dividing Americans, Santorum said, by trying to dictate behavior of certain groups, "whether insurance companies or banks or whatever, people who are successful."
Santorum also told the students and faculty filling the school theater's seats and sitting in the aisles that Obama doesn't recognize that America "is the greatest country in the world."
Obama's failure to acknowledge America's exceptionalism is a threat to the American ability to strive to be successful in life, Santorum said.
Noting the name of the school is spelled nearly like a famous Pennsylvania chocolatier, Santorum noted the founder of Hersey Chocolate repeatedly went bankrupt before finding success.
"Imagine if there had been 99 weeks of unemployment, would he have kept trying?" Santorum asked.
At a nearby restaurant afterward, Santorum turned his attention to Romney ahead of Tuesday’s Republican presidential primary.
“People know he's not conservative. People know he's wrong on the biggest issues of the day that we need to be able to win this election. And I think that's the reason we're doing as well as we are,” Santorum told reporters. “We're the candidate that's got vision, that's got momentum.”
The Illinois presidential vote is a beauty contest, with GOP primary voters getting to directly elect 54 pledged delegates from the state’s 18 congressional districts.
Santorum acknowledged he's at a disadvantage with only 44 delegates on the ballot, but said it's amazing he has that many given how little campaign infrastructure he had in the state in December when Illinois delegate petitions were being circulated. “I was driving around in a truck in Iowa in December,” he said. “We got on the ballot because a bunch of folks called our office and said 'We'd like to help you.'“
The former Pennsylvania senator also took a shot at the state GOP establishment, which had tended to be run by moderates.
“The Illinois party doesn't deal up a lot of conservatives for statewide office, and so you have an opportunity now to sort of fight city hall if you will,” Santorum said. “All the Republican establishment is lined up behind Romney, and hopefully the conservative voices here in the state will say 'that's the best chance for us to beat Barack Obama, is to have a clear choice,' not someone who's just a little different to not different at all on some of the biggest issues of the day.”
The campaign visits come the day after early voting ended in Illinois.
Despite a closely contested Illinois presidential primary, early voting among suburban Republican voters is up only marginally from four years ago — a sign that turnout Tuesday may be lackluster.
The preliminary figures, compiled from area election authorities on Thursday, the final day of early voting, also could portend a close race in Illinois where Romney had figured to do well in suburban areas with rival Santorum expected to garner Downstate support.
Overall, the number of early ballots cast in the Chicago region was down significantly from 2008.
Back then, the state held its presidential primary in February and headlining the ballot was a Democratic presidential battle between then home-state Sen. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
But with President Obama unopposed, fewer Democrats cast early ballots this year.
Republican early voters represented a bigger share of the early ballots cast this year outside Cook County.
Take Will County. Republicans cast 36 percent of the 5,391 early votes four years ago, but made up 63 percent of the 3,331 ballots cast this year. The increase in GOP early votes cast from 2008 to 2012 was a mere 152 ballots.
“I’m surprised because I thought a lot of people would come out because of the Republican presidential primary, plus all of our county board members are on the ballot and our county executive has a primary,” said Will County Clerk Nancy Schultz Voots. “But you can’t force people to come out.”
In DuPage County, long known as a Republican bastion, GOP votes made up 77 percent of the early ballots cast. But the actual number of Republican early ballots was up only 710 from four years ago.
Republicans did better in Lake County, where 4,069 more GOP ballots were cast early and absentee than four years ago. The Republican percentage also increased: nearly 60 percent of the 17,881 early and absentee ballots cast this year, up from the 29 percent of the 22,419 early and absentee ballots cast in 2008.
In Kane County outside Aurora, Republicans cast 79 percent of the 6,937 early votes this year. Overall, the early vote total was down from 9,193 cast in 2008.
In the city of Aurora, 55 percent of the 724 early votes cast this time were Republican, compared to 38 percent of the 910 early ballots from 2008.
In suburban Cook, Democratic early votes continued to outnumber Republican, though the overall number of ballots dropped from 51,067 in 2008 to 36,990 this year. Still, 4,372 more GOP ballots were cast early this time compared to four years ago.
The early voting figures could prove troubling for a Romney campaign that had promoted its organizational strength in Illinois, including its get out the vote efforts.
Romney has done well in suburban areas in other major states and had been expected to do the same in the Chicago suburbs while Santorum enjoyed the backing of more conservative rural voters.
Early voting in the state closed as another candidate in the race, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich concluded his second consecutive day of campaigning in the suburbs, including a tour of Otto Engineering in Carpentersville.
The firm’s founder, longtime conservative activist Jack Roeser, said later he was endorsing Gingrich’s bid.
“We’re in dire straits and we need somebody who’s smart and forceful,” Roeser, who had earlier supported the presidential bid of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, told the Tribune. “I like Gingrich for his intellect. He’s a fighter. He’s smarter than hell.”
But Gingrich told reporters he believes the race in Illinois “largely will be Romney and Santorum,” according to ABC News. Still Gingrich said he would continue in the race.
Responding to Obama likening the GOP field’s views on energy technology to the founders of the flat earth society in the time of Christopher Columbus, Gingrich said he supported biofuel development and increased drilling for petroleum. He said Obama “belongs to the Flat Earth Sierra Club Society.”
At a later rally in Lake of the Hills, Mark Humpa, 43, of Algonquin, said he wanted to hear what Gingrich had to say.
“I like how he's not shying away from foreign leadership and is taking a stance,” Humpa said. Still, Humpa said “the jury is still out” on his vote.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun