CHICAGO (AP) — Returning to the town that launched his political career, President Barack Obama gave a boost Wednesday to Democrats chasing control of the House, telling donors he’s still seeking compromise with Republicans — but if that fails, it’s up to Democrats to finish the job.
Joined by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, his former chief of staff, at a glitzy hotel in downtown Chicago, Obama cast his days of politicking as behind him — “I’ve run my last political race.” But he portrayed a renewed Democratic majority in Congress as the best insurance policy against a GOP determined to stand in his way.
“Washington is not broken,” Obama said. “It’s broken right now for a particular reason, but it’s not permanently broken. It can be fixed.”
That’s where Democratic donors and the candidates they support come in, Obama said.
About 150 supporters, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, attended the reception, where tickets started at $1,000 per person.
But the big bucks awaited Obama and his party at the home of Bettylu Saltzman, whose support for Obama started decades earlier when he was first entering politics in Illinois. Tickets to dinner at Saltzman’s home started at $10,000 and topped out at $32,400 — the legal maximum.
“I can honestly say I probably would not be president today without Bettylu Saltzman,” Obama said. “Love that woman.”
For all the allusions to challenges unmet and work left undone — infrastructure spending, expanded pre-kindergarten and gun control among them — there was little sense of a Democratic base that’s given up hope. Indeed, Obama acknowledged at one point that he was preaching to the choir.
“We’ve got kind of an Obama cabal here in this room,” he said to laughter in the sleek, white apartment in an upscale Chicago neighborhood.
At his first stop, Obama even lent his singing voice to the cause, leading a chorus of “Happy Birthday” for Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., the chairman of the campaign committee.
All told, Obama’s events Wednesday were likely to bring in almost $1 million, at a minimum, for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Obama’s trip to Chicago marked the latest stop on an aggressive fundraising tour that started soon after his re-election and will continue up until the 2014 midterm elections. Although eager to protect their fragile Senate majority, Democrats’ top prize would be the House and returning the gavel to Pelosi.
“I could not be more anxious or eager to have her back as Speaker of the House,” Obama said as the California congresswoman beamed.
Democrats need to gain 17 seats to recapture control of the House next year. It’s an ambitious goal, Democrats and Obama acknowledge, considering the president’s party typically loses seats during the sixth year in office.
But after spending half a decade in the minority, confounding Obama’s efforts to push his legislative agenda through Congress, Democrats have resolved to try. They’re eyeing potential pickups in places like Florida and Texas and courting moderate, outsider candidates they believe they can sell as more pragmatic than incumbent Republicans.
Although criticized by some in his party for doing too little to help the cause in his first term, Obama has shown himself to be a formidable fundraising force. He raised $3.25 million for House Democrats last month at fundraisers in San Francisco — among the 20 or so events Obama has agreed to headline ahead of the 2014 elections for House Democrats, Senate Democrats and the Democratic National Committee, which is still retiring debt the party racked up helping Obama get re-elected last year.
First lady Michelle Obama got in on the action Wednesday, too, raising cash in Massachusetts for a Democrat running in a special election for a Senate seat, then dashing off to New York for a pair of fundraisers for the DNC.
At one event along Central Park, the DNC’s annual lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender gala, Mrs. Obama was joined by singer Sara Bareilles and by NBA player Jason Collins, who the president praised effusively in April after he became the first active player in one of the four major U.S. pro sports leagues to come out as gay. About 350 people attended, with tickets ranging from $1,250 to $32,400.
Obama’s Chicago stops also attracted a number of protesters, whose muffled chants could be heard as he arrived at the hotel for the first event. Groups that had planned protests near the fundraisers included anti-abortion activists, environmentalists urging Obama to nix the Keystone XL pipeline and immigration advocates opposing deportations by the Obama administration.
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