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Obama raises cash while trying to reassure Chicago base

Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel introduced President Barack Obama at a presidential fundraiser Thursday.
Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel introduced President Barack Obama at a presidential fundraiser Thursday. (Getty/Scott Olson)

President Barack Obama returns to Washington on Friday with his re-election campaign a bit richer. The president attended three fundraising events Thursday evening in Chicago.

Ticket prices topped out at $35,800, though they were as low as $100 at the largest event, on Navy Pier. The president opened his remarks with a joke about how he used to have trouble finding a parking spot there.

"It is good be be back in Chicago. It's good to be back in Navy Pier," Mr. Obama said. "And I didn't have to pay for parking. I remember driving around that parking lot, taking Malia and Sasha to the Children's Museum. Can't find a spot, you keep on going up, around and around and around. It's a lot smoother these days."

The president played to the hometown crowd, leading a chant  of "MVP" for Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose, who'd spoken earlier. Mr. Obama used his praise of Rose to tease his former chief of staff, Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, who introduced the president at the rally.

"Before I begin, I want to pay tribute to a friend who's recently taken over this town. He's become the most powerful man in Chicago. Unbelievable energy - sharp elbows, but has brought Chicagoans a new sense of hope about our future. Give it up for Derrick Rose," Mr. Obama said to cheers. "I suppose Rahm is doing a pretty good job, too."

The president also had kind words about Joakim Noah, though he mispronounced the Bulls center's first name.

Mr. Obama did eventually talk about his first two years in office. He listed accomplishments, including a repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" military policy, the confirmation of two female Supreme Court justices and passage of health care overhaul legislation.  

The president also discussed an "extraordinary array of challenges."

"Along the way we had to deal with pirates. Who thought we were going to have to deal with pirates? That wasn't in my campaign platform," the president said to laughter. "Pandemic, earthquakes...oil spills. I - don't forget oil spills. Golly."

This night was about the future, though: bankrolling the 2012 campaign.

Organizers expected 2300 people at the Navy Pier event, where tickets cost $100, or $250 for what were called "preferred tickets." Earlier, the president attended two higher-priced dinner events at a pair of swank Chicago restaurants, hosting 225 people.

The visit comes about a week after the president filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission, technically declaring his candidacy.

As he seeks to build support and attempt to recreate some of the enthusiasm that catapulted him to the office just over two years ago, Mr. Obama is looking to shore up his base. That was reflected in his speech Thursday night at Navy Pier.

"I know there are times where some of you have felt frustrated because we've had to compromise on some issues," the president said. "People are frustrated because we didn't get everything done in the first two years."

Th crowd at the fundraiser included at least a few people who were somewhat frustrated by the first half of President Obama's term.

"I guess he knows what he's doing, and maybe we'll see what his grand plan is," said Paul Ciciora of Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood. "But in the short term it looks like he gave away a lot. It seemed like he had a lot more power than he used."

Paul Ciciora and Mo Cahill await the president's speech.
Paul Ciciora and Mo Cahill await the president's speech. (WBEZ/Sam Hudzik)

In particular, Ciciora does not like how the president compromised on extending the Bush-era tax cuts. But he and his wife are supporting Mr. Obama in 2012.

"He's still our president. We're Democrats. We think this is the way the country should be. I mean, we're not going to give up. We're realists," Ciciora said. "What's the alternative, right?"

The alternative is not yet set, though a number of Republicans are at various stages of announcing their presidential campaigns. The field of potential GOP candidates includes - but is certainly not limited to - Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

President Obama closed out his speech Thursday evening by asking his donors for more help in the run-up to the 2012 campaign.

"I want you to remind everybody else those simple words that summed up what we believed as a people," he said. "'Yes we can.'"

The president then put on a Bulls cap, shook some hands and left to spend a night at his home in the Kenwood neighborhood.

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