A few blocks from his Kenwood house, and down the street from the University of Chicago Law school where he taught, President Obama returned home Saturday for a nostalgic rally on the Midway Plaisance designed to push Gov. Quinn and U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias over the finish line on Tuesday.
Obama has done a series of get-out-the-vote rallies in past weeks -- Chicago was his third of the day and he hits Cleveland today for another one with Vice President Joe Biden -- but the Chicago one was special because it was home turf. If he can't convince Democrats in Illinois to turn out in big numbers, then he's got a problem -- that's what the Republicans will say, and what Democrats might be too polite to say out loud.
Almost two years ago, Obama stood in Grant Park basking in his historic victory. On Saturday night, he reminded people how jazzed up they were then, and he tried to recreate the excitement of the 2008 campaign to spur turnout in 2010.
"That's why you knocked on those doors. That's why you made those phone calls. That's why you cast in some cases your votes for the very first time because you understood what was at stake," Obama said.
The sympathetic crowd, in a telling moment of political community, yelled back "NO!'' when Obama talked about the Grant Park enthusiasm slipping away.
At this point, the final weekend before the election, Illinois Democrats are focusing on turning out their base.
"There is no more persuading Republicans or independents to vote Democratic," state Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) told me at the rally. It's about getting out the base vote.
Cullerton and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) are co-chairs of the Illinois Democratic coordinated campaign and they are using their resources to hunt for sporadic Democratic voters as Republicans Mark Kirk, the Senate nominee, and Bill Brady, running for governor, head towards Tuesday in position to win.
"How many of you were in Grant Park two years ago? You remember that night, it was a night we made history in Chicago and history in America, when we elected Barack Obama president of the United States. We have not forgotten that night," Durbin said.
Democrats in particular need African-American and Hispanic turnout. The crowd at the Hyde Park rally -- at a site surrounded by the University of Chicago campus -- looked mainly white. Before the rally, I wondered if Chicago would muster more than the 37,500 folks who showed up to see Obama at a recent Los Angeles rally.
The Democratic National Committee, which organized the rally, estimated the attendance at 35,000. The group sent $950,000 to Illinois Democrats on Saturday to get out the vote.
But what really counts is the free media coverage Obama got in the expensive Chicago media market, with Republicans outspending Democrats in the Senate contest for what would be a GOP prize -- winning his former seat.