Correction to This Article
This article incorrectly implied that George Washington's 50th birthday occurred while he was president. When Washington turned 50 in February 1782, he was commander of the Continental Army. Washington became president in 1789.

Obama's birthday bash seen as a way to reengage his base

For President Obama's 49th birthday, a Republican Web site lets users send taunts featuring some of his Democratic colleagues.
By Michael D. Shear and Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Save the date, America. Democrats in Austin are throwing a Hawaiian-style luau Wednesday, complete with delicious "tropical fruit, desserts and side dishes." There's a "presidential potluck" in Phoenix, a "49 Candles for America" party in Des Moines and a "Yes We Cake!" celebration in Evanston, Ill.

The reason: President Obama is turning 49.

In need of an enthusiasm transfusion, the president's political operatives are staging a nationwide birthday extravaganza for the president; never mind that Obama's big five-oh isn't for another year. By then, the midterm elections will be over and the opportunity to leverage Obama's birthday as a campaign fundraising tool will have passed.

(Birthday cards from Republicans to President Obama)

The president's aides apparently hope that a frenzy of birthday parties for the commander in chief will re-activate millions of Obama's 2008 supporters, which will translate into millions of dollars and thousands of phone calls on behalf of Democratic candidates up for election this fall.

The official iPad app Organizing for America, Obama's fundraising operation, is calling on supporters to haul out their 2008 campaign T-shirts and hats and buttons -- "YES WE CAN! YES WE WILL!" -- and wear them proudly on Wednesday.

Loyal activists are also being deluged with e-mails. One of them, "from" Michelle Obama, includes the subject line: "Will you sign Barack's birthday card with me?"

"Every year, our family tries to come up with a fun way to wish Barack a happy birthday," the first lady writes. "Together with other Organizing for America supporters -- and me, Malia, Sasha, and Bo -- we'll wish him a happy birthday and let him know that we're ready to take on the year ahead alongside him."

Michelle Obama might want the nation to step in and celebrate her husband's birthday with him because she and their two daughters will be busy that day. Malia is away at camp, and the first lady and Sasha will be on a getaway in Spain.

That leaves the Birthday Boy as a bachelor, with only dog Bo, friend Reggie Love, and a few hundred staff members and Secret Service agents with which to celebrate.

"Since his family's going to be out of town, the least we could do is to make sure there's some parties and make sure a bunch of folks sign a card," said Brad Woodhouse, communications director for the Democratic National Committee, which is organizing the events.

The DNC-backed Organizing for America Web site is collecting the online birthday card signatures (otherwise known as fundraising solicitations). Woodhouse says there are "well over 1 million."

There's also a Google map tracking what they say are 545 birthday-themed events around the country. Example: In San Jose, Democrats are celebrating the day of Obama's birth with a "Yes We CANvass" event aimed at knocking on doors to increase voter turnout.

For those wondering how to best honor the president on his big day, a link on the OFA Web site points to "," where visitors can find photos of Obama-themed pastries.

But no presents, please. Instead, the president's operatives request that well-wishers give Obama the gift of pestering their friends to vote for Democrats. "We're asking people to make 49 calls to contact voters about this year's elections. And just for good measure, to add one and make it an even 50," said the DNC's Woodhouse.

In an unexpected turn, Republicans are mocking this national birthday celebration. Doug Heye, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said Democrats need to fire up their base voters. "Grass skirts and Don Ho records won't do it," he said.

Heye said Republicans will provide their own birthday cards for voters to send to Obama. They will be similar to the valentines that thousands of Republicans sent online to Obama in February. Those e-cards offered photos of the president, as well as other Democratic politicians, along with messages criticizing them.

The last president to turn 49 in office was Bill Clinton, in 1995. He celebrated on the down low that August by vacationing with his wife in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

Clinton was lucky enough to have his 50th birthday fall in an election year, celebrating with a glitzy fundraiser at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Produced by Jeff Margolis, a veteran behind the Academy Awards show and "Miss America," the fundraiser was, as The Washington Post reported, "a star-infested gala" and "a bash of a lifetime" -- with Whoopi Goldberg as host and Rosie O'Donnell and Tim Conway performing comedy routines.

The event was fed live on big screens in nearly 100 cities across the country. The celebration began with a cocktail reception for 2,000 at the Sheraton New York Hotel, continued with the show for 5,100 at Radio City and was followed by dinner for 700 at the Waldorf Astoria. It brought in $10 million for the DNC.

But perhaps no presidential birthday compared to the one celebrated in February of 1782, when George Washington turned 50.

According to the Liberty Tree and Valley Compatriot Newsletter, "Philadelphia, then the Capitol, awoke on Washington's birthday, February 22nd, to the sound of ringing bells and the firing of artillery. Schools were out, servants given the day off; militia, in their uniforms, strutted through the streets."

Like Obama, Washington made his birthday a gift to the nation. The newsletter reported, "Similar celebrations were held in every city and town in the Country."

Staff writer Karen Tumulty contributed to this report.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company