Obama Wants Lincoln's Vision to 'Rub Off' on GOP in Illinois

Susan Walsh/AP Photo

CHICAGO - President Obama wasted little time wading into the Illinois GOP primary debate on a visit here today, poking fun at  rival candidates who remain in disarray and insisting they should all try to be more like Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president and Illinois-native.

"You might have noticed that we have some guests in Illinois this week," Obama said of the Republican presidential candidates before a crowd of 600 donors at the Palmer House Hilton. "Apparently, things haven't quite wrapped up on the other side so … there's actually some interest in the primary that we have here on Tuesday.

"My message to the candidates is:  Welcome to the land of Lincoln, because I'm thinking maybe some Lincoln will rub off on them while they are here," Obama said.

Obama, who has previously upheld Lincoln as an exemplar of compromise, today portrayed him as an early advocate for an activist federal government that envisions grand infrastructure projects and legislative protections for citizens, suggesting that he and Lincoln have a lot in common.

"Lincoln, the first Republican president, knew that if we as a nation through our federal government didn't act to facilitate these things, then they likely wouldn't happen," Obama said, adding that he hoped the candidates visiting his adopted hometown "reflect on this great man."  (He did not identify Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum by name.)

"That vision of Lincoln's, the vision of a big, bold, generous, dynamic, active, inclusive America - that's the vision that has driven this nation for more than 200 years. That's the vision that helped create Chicago," he said. "That's the vision that drove our campaign in 2008."

Obama spoke inside an ornate ballroom at the Palmer House Hilton for a  Lawyers for Obama fundraising luncheon, where tickets started at $2,500 apiece, according to a campaign official.  Proceeds from the event benefit the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising account run by the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

Guests dined on spring salads with lettuce, mandarin oranges and seasonal berries;  Frenched chicken breasts with asparagus and roasted tomatoes and potatoes; and strawberry tartlets for dessert, according to a menu on one of the ballroom's tables.   After his speech, Obama was to spend time behind closed doors with a more exclusive group of 60 campaign financiers, who each paid $10,000 to engage in a "roundtable discussion."

Obama told the crowd he wished he could stay for the weekend, because "we all know there's no better place to be on St. Patrick's Day than in Chicago."  Instead, he will fly south to Atlanta for a trio of evening fundraisers for his re-election campaign.