ABC News’ Karen Travers reports:
President Obama returned home to Chicago tonight for a trio of fundraisers to kick start his 2012 victory fund and lay out an early version of his re-election campaign theme, which contrasts his vision for America with that of Republicans.
“This is not my campaign. This is your campaign,” the president told the enthusiastic crowd of about 2300 at Chicago’s famous Navy Pier.
He reminded them to be excited about the future and invoked that familiar mantra – “those three simple words we believe in as a people: ‘Yes we can.’”
Speaking just a few blocks from Grant Park, where he celebrated his victory on Election Night in 2008, and a few blocks from his re-election campaign headquarters, Obama said he wanted his base of operations back in Chicago because “you guys are the ones that got me started.”
Obama said he wants his re-election campaign in the hands of those early loyal supporters – “the same hands, the same organizers, the same volunteers” who proved that “ordinary people can do extraordinary things.”
The president ticked off a laundry list of legislative accomplishments from the first two years of his administration: passing health care reform, repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and enhancing the nation’s security through agreements with key allies.
But while he noted that it was through compromise that lawmakers in Washington were able to reach an agreement to avoid a government shutdown, he mostly refrained from diving into the partisan battle raging back in Washington over the deficit and government spending.
Instead, Obama emphasized that Democrats and Republicans need to “build on compromise” but he would not compromise on the vision he has for the country.
But off camera at the two earlier fundraisers – that is where Obama delivered the political red meat.
“The speech I gave yesterday was not a partisan shot at the other side,” Obama said to supporters at N9NE Restaurant in Chicago. “It was an attempt to clarify the choice that we have as a country right now.”
At the next event, the president reiterated what he said today back in Washington to George Stephanopoulos – that his speech yesterday on the deficit and the budget plan Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) offered was not a “critique,” but was rather a “description.”
And then he went on to provide a critical description of that plan.
“Under their vision, we can’t invest in roads and bridges and broadband and high-speed rail. I mean, we would be a nation of potholes,” the president said of the investment called for in the Republican budget plan. “And our airports would be worse than places that we thought — that we used to call the Third World, but who are now investing in infrastructure.”
He largely repeated the themes he laid out in his speech at George Washington University yesterday and said the American people will have a clear choice over the course of this campaign.
“We can get our fiscal house in order, but we can do it in a way that is consistent with our values and who we are as a people. Or we can decide to shrink our vision of what America is,” he said.
Tickets for tonight’s events ranged from $100-35,800 and brought in around $2 million for the Obama Victory Fund.
Lending their star power at the Navy Pier event were Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah from the Chicago Bulls. Rose spoke before the event and was greeted with enthusiastic chants of “MVP! MVP” (he is considered the likely winner of this year’s Most Valuable Player award). Also showing up to support perhaps the most famous Chicago White Sox fan – Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks.
At the smaller fundraisers earlier in the night, Obama thanked the guests, whom he called “as good a collection of friends from every stage in my life.”
"As I look across the room it is a record of my adult life and of the people who helped me become the man I am,” the president said.
But he cautioned them that this campaign is going to be different than 2008.
“Over the next three months, six months, nine months, I’m going to be a little preoccupied. I’ve got this day job that I’ve got to handle,” he said to laughter. “And it means that 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.”
Back at Navy Pier, the crowd was more vocal – enthusiastically and repeatedly interrupting the president’s remarks to shout encouragement (“I love you Barack!” “Thank you President Obama,” etc) and chime in when they agreed with the agenda he was laying out.
Obama told the hometown crowd that while he wasn’t born in Chicago (“I was born in Hawaii,” he said to knowing laughter), he grew up and “became a man” here.
As he wrapped up his 30-minute remarks, the president gave one last nod to his adopted hometown, donning a Chicago Bulls baseball cap. He stepped away from the microphone, then stepped back and said, “Go Bulls!”
Cue the anthem of GOP and Democratic campaigns: Brooks and Dunn’s “Only in America.”