CHICAGO — President Obama didn’t mention any of his Republican opponents by name here Friday afternoon.
But he left no doubt who he was talking about when he blasted “some” who were against bailing out the auto industry three years ago – and chided the GOP field for, in his words, not living up to the legacy of Abraham Lincoln.
As former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) and the rest of the Republican White House contenders have criss-crossed Illinois in recent days, Obama on Friday delivered a campaign-style address to a ballroom of about 600 donors at the Palmer House Hilton, which he kicked off by saying, “Now, you might’ve noticed that we have some guests in Illinois this week.”
“Apparently, things haven’t quite wrapped up on the other side,” Obama said to scattered laughs. “So, there’s actually some interest in the primary that we have here on Tuesday. And my message to all 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 hailed the first Republican president as “a leader who saved the union” and as someone who not only grasped the importance of science and innovation, but who “knew that if we as a nation through our federal government didn’t act to facilitate these things, then they likely wouldn’t happen and, as a result, we’d all be worse off.”
The Republican contenders might not take time to reflect on Lincoln’s legacy, given their recent “avalanche of attack ads,” Obama said.
“But hope springs eternal,” he added.
Obama’s address to supporters here a few blocks away from his national campaign headquarters came hours after Romney held a meet-and-greet several miles away at a diner in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont.
At the breakfast event, Romney criticized Obama repeatedly, taking aim at the president’s stewardship of the economy and poking fun at a 17-minute documentary released by the Obama campaign Thursday.
That documentary, which marked the unofficial kick-off of the Obama camp’s reelection effort, was shown in full to the ballroom of supporters at the Palmer House on Friday.
The event was the first in a quintet of Friday fundraisers for Obama — the most the president has held in a single day, according to Mark Knoller of CBS News. According to Knoller, the campaign is aiming to net $5.5 million from the day’s events. After the Palmer House event, Obama was heading to a separate closed-to-the-press fundraiser at the same hotel before taking off for Atlanta.
“It is good to be home,” Obama told the crowd as he kicked off his remarks. “I have never seen the city look prettier.”
Addressing a crowd that included many of his longtime supporters, Obama said that he was grateful to “so many folks who have put up with me before I was president and helped me get there.”
Present at the event were Illinois’ senior senator, Dick Durbin (D), who rode to Chicago aboard Air Force One with Obama; Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Bobby Rush (D-Ill.); Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Bill Daley and businesswoman Penny Pritzker, co-chairs of Obama’s campaign; state Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D), Obama’s former seatmate in the state Senate; Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D); Cook County Board President. Toni Preckwinckle, one of Obama’s earliest supporters in the state; and senior adviser David Axelrod, all of whom Obama acknowledged by name.
“It is just extraordinary,” Obama said. “I miss you guys. I wish I could stay the weekend – especially this weekend, because we all know there is no better place to be on St. Patrick’s Day than in Chicago.”
Of Emanuel – who departed his post as White House chief of staff to run for mayor – Obama joked: “You’ve got a new mayor here. I don’t know how he’s doing, but he seems to have a little bit of energy.”
In his half-hour remarks, Obama delivered a wide-ranging defense of his record as president and argued that his administration rescued the U.S. auto industry, “even when some were saying, ‘Let’s let Detroit go bankrupt,’ with a million jobs on the line, the entire economy of the Midwest and the country at stake.”
The line was a reference to the title of Romney’s now-famous 2008 New York Times op-ed opposing the auto bailout.
Obama then launched into a stump speech in which he urged supporters to keep alive the same enthusiasm for his campaign that they had four years ago.
Defending the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” he told the cheering crowd that “change is the fact that for the first time in our history, you don’t have to hide who you love in order to serve the country you love.”
He highlighted the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and of health-care reform “after a century of trying.” And, in a line that drew some of the biggest applause of the event, he told the assembled donors that “change is fulfilling the first promise I made in this campaign — that we would end the war in Iraq.”
He reprised the Democratic argument that Republicans favor a return to “everybody playing by their own rules” and pushed back against the GOP case that Democrats are engaging in “class warfare” by calling on the wealthy to pay more in taxes.
“I was with Warren Buffet a couple of days ago,” Obama said. “And he’s quite pleased I named a rule after him. The Buffet rule – which is common sense.”
As he wrapped up his remarks, Obama joked that it’s “not as trendy to be involved in the Obama campaign as it was back then.” He then appeared to grow pensive as he recalled the Election Night speech he delivered across Michigan Avenue in Grant Park on the night of his November 2008 victory.
“As much as 2008 was exciting and as much as all of us, I think, saw that night in Grant Park as this culmination of something, it was actually just the beginning of what we’re fighting for,” Obama said. “That’s what 2012 is about.”
According to a campaign official, tickets for the first event of the day were $2,500 a head. For the second, closed fundraiser for about 60 high-dollar donors, the price of admission was $10,000.
Later Friday, Obama heads to Atlanta, where he holds three more fundraisers: an event at the residence of actor and director Tyler Perry, a separate event at Tyler Perry Studios and then another fundraiser at a private residence.
Tickets for the private Perry event are $35,800 a head, according to multiple reports. The second event, at which CeeLo Green is expected to perform, has a $500 minimum price tag; the third event is $10,000 a head.
This post has been updated since it was first published.