There was no shortage of hoopla as President Barack Obama returned home Thursday for the first time since formally announcing his re-election bid, as he used using past and present stars of his playoff-bound favorite Chicago Bulls to cap an evening of fundraising that could net about $2 million.
Speaking in Navy Pier’s Grand Ballroom before an estimated 2,300 people who paid between $100 and to $250 to attend, Obama challenged the crowd to come together for him as they did four years ago.
“Ordinary folks can do extraordinary things. That’s what this campaign is about,” Obama said at the event, which also featured Bulls all-star point guard and South Side native Derrick Rose, forward Joakim Noah¿ and a former star from the team’s championship years, B.J. Armstrong.¿ The president later donned a Bulls cap.
After Air Force One arrived at O’Hare International Airport shortly after 5 p.m., Obama was overheard by a photographer telling someone that he would be back to the city for the finals -- the NBA finals, if the Bulls make it that far.
Obama told the Navy Pier crowd that he was the first sitting president in modern history to move his re-election campaign headquarters out of Washington, basing it in Chicago.
“I decided I don’t want our campaign to be just hearing all the pundits and power brokers,” . I want our campaign to be here because you guys are the ones who got me started,” Obama said.
“One of the things that I’ve seen again and again over the last couple of years is the conversation in Washington is very different from the conversation around kitchen tables and office coolers. And I wanted to make sure our campaign was rooted in your hopes and rooted in your dreams. I wanted to make sure we’re putting the campaign in your hands,” he said.
Before the Navy Pier event, Obama attended two fundraising dinners -- at N9NE Steakhouse on the city’s Near West Side and MK on the Near North Side -- with price tags of up to $35,800 per person split between his re-election fund and the Democratic National Committee. About 225 people attended the dinners.
A day removed from a budget speech in which he pledged to cut the deficit by more than a third over the next 12 years, in part by trimming entitlement programs and by raising taxes on the wealthy, Obama told more than 100 people at N9NE that Republicans were “entirely sincere” in offering up a budget plan that would cut taxes on the wealthy and privatize Medicare for the elderly.
But, Obama said, the GOP also was saying to the American public, “We can’t afford to be compassionate. We can’t afford Medicare, so let’s make sure that seniors get a voucher.”
“If we’re progressive, we’ve got to care about the deficit as much as the other side does,” Obama said.
At N9NE, Obama was introduced by his former chief of staff and the city’s mayor-elect, Rahm Emanuel.
“Yes, he is foul-mouthed. Yes, that finger thing is a little creepy. But I love him anyway,” Obama said of Emanuel, referring to the partial loss of his middle finger from a meat-slicer accident while in high school. “And Chicago, you did the right thing by electing him the next mayor of Chicago.”
Also at the dinner was retiring Mayor Richard Daley. William Daley, the current mayor’s brother and Emanuel’s successor as White House chief of staff, also made the trip from Washington.
At MK, Obama acknowledged that in a re-election campaign, “some of the excitement of something new is not going to be there." But he added, “The question is, do we finish the job?”
The fundraising events were the first since Obama told supporters on by email and social media in the early morning hours of April 4 that papers were being filed with federal election officials to formalize his bid for a second term.
Though the reconstituted Obama for America campaign labeled the overnight Chicago visit as among a host of “fundraising kickoff” events planned for the rest of the month, others linked connected to the campaign said cautioned that the trip was more of a kick-start to the president’s re-election effort.
Still, Obama’s few hours of fundraising could net a quick $2 million for his re-election fund and the DNC, with other fundraisers set next week in San Francisco and Los Angeles and the week after in New York. Individual donations to Obama are restricted by federal campaign finance law to $2,500 apiece for the nominating season and the general election, while donations to the DNC are capped at $30,800 a year.
With a re-election fundraising goal of $1 billion, up from compared with to the more than $750 million raised in the 2008 campaign, the Obama his camp has asked its top fundraising bundlers to come up with $350,000 apiece, $100,000 more than in his Obama’s first White House bid.
The increased emphasis on high-dollar fundraising is a reflection of a changed campaign landscape.
Though he does not face a primary challenge, Obama is expected to be the subject of blistering general election attacks from several Republican-oriented groups such as Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, the group backed by former Bush White House political strategist Karl Rove which is not bound by federal donation limits or disclosure rules under a recent Supreme Court decision.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun