President Obama will head to Chicago on Thursday afternoon for his first official events as a 2012 presidential candidate, a trio of fundraisers that will bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars for his campaign and provide him a rare chance to spend the night in his non-White House home.
Obama announced last week he was running for president, with a video featuring his supporters talking about the importance of his reelection, but the Chicago appearances will serve as the unofficial campaign kickoff, complete with remarks from the president himself.
The president’s homecoming will include an event for younger supporters in a ballroom at Navy Pier, where Obama may not be the most popular person in the room: Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose will also attend. Tickets for the event are as low as $100, so it’s expected to draw more than 1,000 people.
But the president will raise the real money at two earlier events. He will attend a dinner at MK, a restaurant that serves Italian and French food, for donors who give more than $30,000, money that will be split between the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Another dinner, at a steakhouse named N9NE, requires a $5,000 donation.
About 50 people are expected at MK, 100 at N9NE. (The donations don’t guarantee the slim president will literally eat with the supporters.)
“This is his home and this is really where his career really unfolded in public life, and this is where our campaign took root,” said longtime Obama adviser David Axelrod in an interview. “So it’s absolutely fitting that what will be his final campaign should begin here in earnest as well. These events are part of the foundation-laying, and it feels right that they should start here.”
The events illustrate Obama’s dual goals in deciding to launch his campaign before most of his GOP competitors. At Navy Pier, he will try to reengage the kind of youthful backers who not only gave money but campaigned across the country for him, support he will need again. And to fund the kind of massive on-the-ground operations that defined his 2008 run, the president and his team are aggressively courting major Democratic donors across the country at small dinners.
The Chicago event is the first stop of a fundraising and grass-roots swing that will take the president over the next two weeks to Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York.
It’s not clear how often he will come back to the Windy City in the next two years. Early in his tenure, the president said he would try to come to his Hyde Park home every six weeks. No so much in reality; he has made it to Chicago only six times.
But Obama will return April 27 to appear on the show of his friend Oprah Winfrey.