President Barack Obama made his debut as a candidate for reelection on Thursday night by urging hometown supporters to “take ownership” of his infant campaign while he continues his “day job.”
“You’re making me blush,” the president said as he was welcomed with thunderous applause at his first stop.
The campaign’s main message in these early days is that supporters need to generate the opening wave of grassroots excitement, without relying on the president to fire up supporters personally, as he was able to do in 2008.
“Over the next three months, six months, nine months, I’m going to be a little preoccupied,” he told donors at the first of three Chicago fundraisers. “I’m not going to see all of you as often I’d like. It means that I’m not going to be able to make that phone call to you and thank you even though my gratitude is profound.”
“If you are just as fired up now — despite the fact that your candidate is a little older and a lot grayer,” he continued, to laughter and applause, “then I have every confidence that we are going to be able finish the job.”
The trio of fundraisers raked in about $2 million, with tickets starting as low as $100 for a “Generation 44” event that drew 2,300 to the grand ballroom of Chicago’s historic Navy Pier on Lake Michigan. Prices ranged up to as much as $35,800, the legal maximum at a small dinner.
At the president’s second stop, he acknowledged: “Some of the excitement of something new is not going to be there.”
The event at the Navy Pier, the site of many a high-school prom, was designed to look more presidential than political — no banners or balloons. The president appeared in front of a massive blue drape with 10 flags bathed in red and blue light behind him, and a car-dealer-sized flag at stage left.
Obama was introduced by Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, his first White House chief of staff. The two hugged as Obama took the stage.
Obama’s campaign headquarters will once again be in the Windy City — the first time in modern history, he said, that a sitting president has based a reelection outside Washington. “I decided I don’t want our campaign to be just hearing all the pundits and the power brokers,” he said. “You guys are the ones that got me started.”
Obama described the fight over this year’s budget as “just an appetizer” ahead of the broader fiscal fight that he staked out in his Wednesday deficit address.