President Obama returned home for two fund-raisers on Friday, taking aim at GOP rivals stumping in Illinois in advance of the Tuesday primary as contenders who hardly measured up to another president from Illinois--a Republican, Abe Lincoln.
In his speech, Obama said he wants the U.S. to be as competitive as other nations. "I don't want to ride on a road in Germany and see a better road than Lake Shore Drive," the famous roadway that runs along, mostly, Lake Michigan.
Obama headlined two events in Chicago on Friday before flying to Atlanta for three more events, a day that will raise millions of dollars for the combined Democratic National Committee/Obama 2012 re-election drive.
The first Obama event--a "Lawyers for Obama" luncheon at the Palmer House Hilton was open to press coverage; a roundtable for major donors after that was not. The roundtable feature Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Gov. Pat Quinn, former White House chief of staff Bill Daley, strategist David Axelrod, business executive Penny Pritzker and former Senate president Emil Jones.
At the start of the luncheon, Axelrod introduced a video released Thursday night the Obama campaign is calling a "documentary," which recounts the accomplishments of the Obama administration.
Obama was introduced by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who was his seatmate when they both served in the Illinois Senate.
"Now, you might have noticed that we have some guests in Illinois this week," Obama said at the luncheon. Without mentioning their names, he was referring to Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum--campaigning in the Chicago northwest suburbs today, and Newt Gingrich, in the area on Wednesday and Thursday.
"Apparently things haven't quite wrapped up on the other side. So, so there is actually some interest in the primary that we have here on Tuesday. And -- 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 said, recounting that Lincoln--even during the Civil War, was able to build a trans-continental railroad and establish land grant colleges."
Obama, continuing to aim his remarks at his GOP rivals, said Lincoln "understood that we are a people that take great pride in our self-reliance and our independence, but that we are also one nation and one people, and that we rise or fall together.
"So I hope that while my counterparts on the other side enjoy the outstanding hospitality of the people of Illinois and spend some money here to promote our economy --- I hope they also take a little bit of time to reflect on this great man, the first Republican president."
Obama addressed what is sometimes called the "enthusiasm gap," the challenge in the 2012 campaign to recreate the "hope and change" euphoria that swept through many of his supporters in 2008.
The crowd--supportive but reserved--the room was full of lawyers--shared his "vision," Obama said, recalling the heady days of 2008.
"That's the change we believed in. That's why you got involved. You didn't get involved because the odds were that a guy named Barack Hussein Obama was going to be president," Obama said.
"Yes you can," someone shouted out--recasting a famous 2008 slogan.
"And we knew it wasn't going to be easy or that it would come quickly. We knew it was going to be hard. But as you just saw in that video, just -- just think about what happened over the last three years because of what you did in 2008.
Because of your efforts, your commitment not to me, but to the country and to each other, we started to see what change looked like."
Obama filled Grant Park the night he was elected in 2008. Recalling that he said, "As much as 2008 was exciting, and -- as much as all of us, I think, saw that night at Grant Park as -- as the culmination of something, it was actually just the beginning of what we're fighting for. "
FOOTNOTE: According to Mark Knoller of CBS News--the unofficial statistics keeper of presidents, the Chicago fund-raisers were the 104th and the 105th since Obama filed for re-election with the Federal Election Commission on April 4, 2011.
At this point, former President George W. Bush had done 54. By the end of Friday, Obama will have headlined 108 fund-raisers.