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WASHINGTON -- The Obama campaign released its final list of "bundlers" over the weekend -- supporters who raised megabucks to re-elect President Barack Obama -- and the abundance of Chicago money muscle, and lack of Hawaiian fund-raising juice, takes away any doubt that the Obama presidential library will end up in Chicago.

Of about 250 bundlers who raised more than $500,000 -- counting couples or business associates as one unit -- 21 were from Chicago or the suburbs and none were from Obama's native state, which has been publicly angling for the library. The University of Chicago is waging a covert bid for the library. See the list of Obama's Illinois super-bundlers at the end of the column; the fourth-quarter list had no local surprises.


This wealthy and well-connected group has very deep pockets, and they are being tapped at present -- the library ask will come later -- to help bankroll the newly formed Organizing for Action, a nonprofit spawned by the Obama campaign to, in the short term, help push Obama's second-term agenda on guns, immigration, the budget and climate change, to name a few issues.

The new group already has an office in Washington and another will be in Chicago, where Executive Director Jon Carson will be based.

While the goal is to create, as Carson has said, "the largest grassroots network in the history of politics," OFA is following a fund-raising model the Obama campaigns of 2008 and 2012 perfected and also wooing big money with offers of exclusive briefings and access to mingle with top figures in the Obama orbit, including the president.

The group is hosting a "Founders Summit" on March 13 at the Jefferson Hotel in Washington, with a $50,000 price tag for the daylong event, according to the invitation I saw. A top donor told me that the ask went up in a conference call to $500,000 to land a spot on a "national advisory board."

After the New York Times' Nicholas Confessore first reported on OFA's $500,000 pitch, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked last Monday about Obama administration officials -- up to the president -- helping to raise money for OFA.

"White House and administration officials will not be raising money for Organizing for Action, and they, while they may appear at appropriate OFA events in their official capacities -- they will not be raising money," Carney said, making a tortured distinction with absolutely no difference.

OBAMA TOP BUNDLERS: From Illinois, raising $500,000 plus for the Obama 2012 campaign are: Neil Bluhm; Wally Brewster and Bob Satawake; Steve Cohen; Les Coney; Kevin Conlon; James Crown; Fred Eychaner; Rajiv Fernando; Vicki and Bruce Heyman; Jill and John Levi; Lee Miller; Chaka Patterson; Penny Pritzker; Laura Ricketts; John Rogers Jr. and Mellody Hobson; Michael Sacks; Andy Schapiro and Tamar Newberger; Amy Singh; David Solow; Alan Solow; Grace Tsao-Wu.

Michelle Obama talks about the new "Organizing for Action" Obama organization

WASHINGTON--The Chicago-based Obama campaign will transform into a permanent non-profit political organization with offices in Chicago and Washington.

In an e-mail sent Friday to supporters, Jim Messina, Obama's 2012 campaign manager--who will chair the new group, to be named "Organizing for Action" said the organization is "the next phase of this movement.

"It will be a supporter-driven organization, as we've always been, staying true to our core principles: "respect, empower, include." We'll work on the key battles of our generation, train the next generation of grassroots organizers and leaders, and organize around local issues in our own communities. We'll continue to support the President in creating jobs and growing the economy from the middle out, and in fighting for issues like immigration reform, climate change, balanced deficit reduction, and reducing gun violence.

"We have a remarkable opportunity right now to change our country, and if we can take the enthusiasm and passion that people showed throughout the campaign and channel it into the work ahead of us, we will be unstoppable.

"As the chair of Organizing for Action, I will be deeply involved in this new organization, but it will be organizers like you who will determine where it goes. I have no doubt we can take this grassroots movement to new and extraordinary heights."

Messina will discuss the new group at a meeting called The Legacy Conference--Sunday at the Washington Hilton and on-line for broader participation--consisting mainly of Obama campaign staffers and volunteers.

The new group is the result of a desire by the Obama team to create a group separate from the Democratic National Committee--one devoted to Obama's second term goals.

The group will be organized as a 501 (c4) under the IRS code which covers advocacy group.

Obama's biggest donors--his National Finance Committee--will be briefed on the new group during a day long "Going Forward" conference at the Newseum on Saturday, which is to include conversations on "what to do next next," a source told the Sun-Times.

Looking ahead, it is not a leap to see that this group becomes through the years the backbone of Obama's post-presidency--including his presidential library.

The Los Angeles Times first reported that the new group will be led by Jim Messina, Obama's 2012 campaign manager and Chicago political veteran Jon Carson, who currently runs the White House Office of Public Engagement.

$7,500 gold, bronze, silver medallions
$165 cotton throw blanket
$15 pin
$5 button

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama's inauguration committee opened a store to sell all kinds of merchandise, including a medallion set for $7,500 in order to help fund festivities later this month. Tickets for the Jan. 21 inaugural balls already sold out.

hagel and obama  in .JPG
July 22, 2008: Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) at a press conference in Amman, Jordan with Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) (Photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--Despite an almost certain confirmation battle, President Barack Obama taps a friend, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), to be Defense Secretary on Monday.

Hagel gave Obama a boost--helping him burnish his foreign relations and defense credentials-- when he was running for his first term in 2008. Hagel, along with Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) accompanied Obama to Iraq and Afghanistan, kicking off the first leg--the official government part--of Obama's Mideast and European campaign swing.

After landing in Amman, Jordan after the Iraq and Afghanistan visits, Hagel stuck around for a press conference at the Temple of Hercules in Amman, letting Obama start the next phase of his trip--a pure campaign swing--with an "official" bi-partisan report on the two wars.

Read my report on Hagel and Obama at the Temple of Hercules HERE.

WASHINGTON--The American public will be able to witness President Barack Obama getting sworn in for a second term; the Presidential Inaugural Committee said Wednesday the unusual Sunday ceremony will be open to media coverage.

This should not even have been a question--but it was, because the White House would not say--as recently as Tuesday--whether the event could be covered.

"The official swearing-in on Sunday will be open to media coverage," Addie Whisenant, the national spokesman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee told me after I asked her Wednesday about the status of coverage for the historic event.

"We are still working out additional details and logistics and expect to be able to share more about media coverage plans for that ceremony and other Inaugural events soon," she said.

Congress set noon on Jan. 20 as the date terms end for the president and vice president with the switch from March 4 made in the 20th amendment to the Constitution--passed by Congress on March 2, 1932 and ratified on Jan. 23, 1933.

In 2013, Jan. 20 falls on a Sunday--which is why--as per custom--the public festivities--the parade, balls, etc.--are taking place on Monday, Jan. 21, with the swearing-in on the Capitol steps a ceremonial re-enactment.

That's because the Constitution can't be ignored--so the White House is planning for Obama to be sworn-in for his second term on Sunday, Jan. 20.

Questions about whether the press would be able to witness the event were prompted in part by the White House declining to say for days if the event would be open or closed to coverage.

On Tuesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney dodged the question at the briefing when he was asked, "Can you tell us and the public what the coverage will be of the swearing-in for the President on Sunday for the inauguration?

"I don't believe those decisions have been made," he said.

Ed Henry, the Fox News White House correspondent who is the president of the White House Correspondents Association said in a statement last Friday, "Mindful of the historic nature of this occasion, we expect the White House will continue the long tradition of opening the President's official swearing-in to full press access, and we as an organization are looking forward to working with the administration to make that happen."

According to the House/Senate committee handling inauguration ceremonies, the 2013 inauguration marks the seventh time since 1933 that Jan. 20 in an inauguration year has landed on a Sunday.

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama hosted an exclusive White House dinner on Friday for some of his most elite fund-raisers, including a group from Chicago.

A White House aide confirming the event told me, "As is commonplace with past administrations of both parties, the president hosted a holiday party with supporters Friday evening in the residence. The event was paid for by the Democratic National Committee."

It's the holiday season and Obama and first lady Michelle -- as is routine in prior administrations -- are hosting many holiday receptions at the White House each night for hundreds of attendees. These events are paid for by the DNC and are thrown for members of Congress, for print and broadcast press, for military members, major contributors, stakeholder groups, etc.

The Friday event was much smaller -- for about 200 who were part of the Obama campaign National Finance Committee.

The Chicago group included Vicki Heyman, a co-chair of the Illinois Finance Committee and her husband, Bruce; another Illinois co-chair, Ariel Investments founder John Rogers; Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts; business executives James Crown and Penny Pritzker; and Michael Sacks, CEO of Grosvenor Capital Management and an investor and board member for Wrapports LLC, the owner of Sun-Times Media, publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, top strategist David Axelrod and deputy campaign managers Stephanie Cutter and Julianna Smoot dropped by the event along with White House adviser David Plouffe.

WASHINGTON--Could it be donor fatigue? I've learned the Obama 2013 Presidential Inaugural Committee is poised to take corporate money--reversing its self-imposed 2008 ban. The second Obama inauguration--on Jan 21-- will be smaller and far more modest than the first, I am told.

On Nov. 25, 2008, the Obama team announced: "The Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) announced today that it will abide by an unprecedented set of limitations on fundraising as part of President-elect Obama's pledge to put the country on a new path. Unlike previous inaugural committees, the PIC will not accept contributions from corporations, political action committees, current federally-registered lobbyists, non-U.S. citizens and registered foreign agents. The PIC will not accept individual contributions in excess of $50,000. Current law does not restrict the size of donations. In past inaugurations, contribution limits have run as high as $250,000."

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Mitt Romney's selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate "was not a political choice"; his warm personal chemistry with Ryan made it more like a "bromance."

A major mistake by President Barack Obama's team was waiting too long to give fund-raising assistance to the main SuperPAC bolstering Obama's re-election bid.

Those insights came during a conference on the 2012 presidential campaign hosted by Harvard's Institute of Politics, which included the key operatives from the Obama and Romney operations, Romney's GOP primary challengers and strategists who ran SuperPACs.

The "Decision Makers Conference" took place last Wednesday and Thursday with the remarks embargoed until Monday.

Among the findings for the historic record:

♦ Right before Clint Eastwood spoke at the GOP convention -- where he became the story of the night with his surprise talk to an empty chair -- Romney strategist Russ Schreifer asked the actor if indeed he was going to deliver the same remarks he did twice before at fund-raisers. Schreifer said Eastwood "looked at me and said 'yup.' "

♦ While the Obama team saw the selection of Ryan as a gift -- turning the conversation from Obama's record to Ryan's proposals on Medicare and other social safety net programs -- another Romney strategist, Stuart Stevens, said his selection did not reflect some changing theory about the race.

"It was not a political choice," Stevens said. It was "never discussed as such."

Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades said as soon as Ryan and Romney started campaigning together, during his daily calls with Romney "it was like talking to your buddy who just met a girl and is giddy." Romney pollster Neil Newhouse said when he saw the chemistry of Ryan and Romney together, he thought, "it was like a bromance."

♦ Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said one of his mistakes -- and a chief regret -- was waiting too long to prod Obama donors to contribute to the main SuperPAC helping the president. And given the Obama campaign's initial reluctance to deal with SuperPACs, when they jumped in, it "looked like a flip flop."

♦ Regarding that damaging video -- where Romney, at a fund-raiser, said 47 percent of Americans were dependent on government -- Rhoades said no one on his side "knew it existed." Romney took the blame for what he said, Rhoades said.

Teddy Goff, Obama's digital director, said there was a downside to the 47 percent tape for his troops: to the extent Obama backers thought the president was becoming a favorite, well, that was "not helpful to us at all."

♦ Romney senior adviser Beth Myers said Romney started debate prep in June -- with the first debate Oct. 3. "He wanted this to be the Manhattan Project" of the campaign, she said. In all, Romney held 16 mock debates.

♦ David Simas, Obama's director of opinion research, said they were confident of the Obama lead in battleground states in part because they had massive samplings -- 9,000 telephone interviews across 10 states most nights.

♦ Brian Baker, the president and general counsel for the Ending Spending Action Fund -- bankrolled by Joe Ricketts, the father of Cubs executives Tom and Laura -- said the SuperPAC never considered funding ads featuring the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the Obamas' former pastor -- even through a consultant pitched them on the idea.

Baker said he did not pull the plug because the story leaked to the New York Times. Rather there was no plug to pull; the proposal "was never going to be greenlighted" because there was no "research" showing it would work -- and there was a backfire potential that it would fire up Obama supporters.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- A few days after President Barack Obama won the election, his campaign manager, Jim Messina, contacted Matt Rhoades (who ran Mitt Romney's campaign) to arrange a meeting between the two men.

The result of the outreach -- which Messina confirmed he made when I asked him on Thursday -- was that Romney arrived at the White House on Thursday to lunch with Obama. He visited with Obama in the Oval Office--which a few weeks ago he though he would occupy on Jan. 21, Inauguration Day.

Over white turkey chili and Southwest grilled chicken, the two dined in the private dining room adjacent to the Oval Office, in ae.colunch lasting about an hour. Romney congratulated Obama on his win "and wished him well over the coming four years," the White House said in a statement.

Obama had mentioned in his election night victory speech that he wanted to get together with Romney and brought it up again at a Nov. 14 press conference.

"He presented some ideas during the course of the campaign that I actually agree with. And so it'd be interesting to talk to him about something like that," Obama said then.

As for the lunch conversation, "the focus of their discussion was on America's leadership in the world and the importance maintaining that leadership position in the future. They pledged to stay in touch, particularly if opportunities to work together on shared interests arise in the future," the White House said in a statement.

Romney flew in from his California home. While in Washington, he also met with his former running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). It was the first time they have been together since election night in Boston.

I've been talking to a variety of people in the Romney orbit -- some at a conference I am attending at Harvard's Institute of Politics, looking at the 2012 campaign -- plus others to gain some insight into what Romney may do.

Romney told his staff after he lost his second run for president that he would not seek public office again. Eric Fehrnstrom, who was Romney's campaign spokesman, told me Thursday, "I'd be surprised if he didn't stay involved in public service in some way."

Something may be in the works. Fehrnstrom said he "expected some announcement about his future plans after the first of the year."

Romney, who has a residence outside Boston, is setting up an office in Solamere Capital, the Boston firm founded by son Tagg and Spencer Zwick, Romney's national campaign finance chairman.

Romney has told his major donors that he wants to keep his network together. Romney's fund-raising ability could be enormously helpful to future candidates. He rejoined the Marriott board after his 2008 run; it's not known yet, his associates told me, if he is ready to get back in the business world.

What is clear, I am told, is that Romney, a youthful 65, is not anywhere close to retiring.

"He is a very resilient person who gets bored very quickly," an associate said.

While some Republicans are already focused on 2014 and 2016, feeling bruised by Romney's defeat, John Brabender, who was the senior strategist for Rick Santorum's presidential campaign, told me that Romney "can step into a lot of roles."

"He is seen as a little bit less political and ideologically driven as some political figures; therefore, I think that makes that transition a little bit easier.

"Certainly there have been criticisms about him and the campaign, but truthfully, I think those are frustrations. I don't think they are valid, I think they will go away."

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.--President Barack Obama and former rival Mitt Romney lunched Thursday at the White House--the first time they saw each other since the election. The White House released a few details:

"This afternoon, President Obama and Governor Romney visited for an hour over lunch in the Private Dining Room adjacent to the Oval Office. Governor Romney congratulated the President for the success of his campaign and wished him well over the coming four years. The focus of their discussion was on America's leadership in the world and the importance of maintaining that leadership position in the future. They pledged to stay in touch, particularly if opportunities to work together on shared interests arise in the future. Their lunch menu included white turkey chili and Southwestern grilled chicken salad."

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama's team is starting to organize his second inaugural--likely to be more modest than the first, I'm told.

The executive director of the Obama 2013 "PIC," the presidential inaugural committee will be--unless there is a last minute switch--Stephen Kerrigan, who was the Chief Executive Officer of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. Kerrigan was the chief of staff for Obama's 2009 inauguration.

The finance director for the 2013 "PIC" will be Elizabeth Lowery, who was the deputy director of finance for the Obama 2012 campaign.

To be decided: will the Obama 2013 "PIC" take contributions from corporations or political action committees and reverse its self-imposed 2008 ban?

On Nov. 25, 2008, the Obama team announced: "The Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) announced today that it will abide by an unprecedented set of limitations on fundraising as part of President-elect Obama's pledge to put the country on a new path. Unlike previous inaugural committees, the PIC will not accept contributions from corporations, political action committees, current federally-registered lobbyists, non-U.S. citizens and registered foreign agents. The PIC will not accept individual contributions in excess of $50,000. Current law does not restrict the size of donations. In past inaugurations, contribution limits have run as high as $250,000."

Three committees run inaugural activities:

1. The Armed Forces Inaugural Committee coordinates all military organizations involved in the ceremonies.

2. The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC), a panel headed by House/Senate leadership, runs events at the Capitol, where the swearing-in takes place.

3. The Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) funds and organizes a variety of festive events associated with the inaugural; concerts, balls, etc.

A day after winning election to a second term, President Barack Obama, Michelle, Malia and Sasha returned to the White House from their Kenwood home -- with Obama stopping by his headquarters here for an emotional send-off to his campaign workers.

Obama was joined by campaign manager Jim Messina and chief strategist David Axelrod. They all gave shout-outs to the staff and volunteers who gathered together in the massive Prudential Building office for the last time.

Almost all of the paid staff in Chicago and in state operations will be without jobs in a few days. Obama stayed about an hour.

Cabinet, other changes

Meanwhile, the Obama second term will be starting to take shape, with speculation already raging about Cabinet switches and other high-level staff changes that may be in the works. I don't expect any wholesale, done-in-a-day overhauls; rather, watch for a gradual process.

Here's the talk:

♦ Treasury. The current White House chief of staff, Jack Lew, has the inside track to be named Treasury secretary to replace Tim Geithner. Another name floating around is Erskine Bowles, who was a White House chief of staff for former President Bill Clinton.

♦ Chief of staff. Names that have been mentioned to replace Lew (who followed Bill Daley who came after Rahm Emanuel) include senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. Jarrett also oversees the White House offices of intergovernmental affairs and public engagement. Jarrett's role is larger than her titles suggest; she is a counselor-at-large on a variety of matters, often travels with the president and is a personal confidante to both the president and Mrs. Obama.

Another name mentioned is Ron Klain, an attorney who most recently was helping Obama in debate prep. Klain has been chief of staff for Vice President Joe Biden and Vice President Al Gore.

♦ State. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is eager to leave. I've heard that United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice is at the top of the list to replace her -- even if she has to navigate through the controversy over the timeline she offered about the murders of the four American diplomats in Benghazi, Libya.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been very interested in the spot, but quitting his Senate seat would trigger a consequence: another battle over a Massachusetts Senate seat. Republican Sen. Scott Brown, defeated Tuesday by Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren, could start plotting a comeback.

♦ Defense. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta commutes back home to California almost weekly and is said to looking for an off-ramp in the next months. One name mentioned is former Undersecretary Michele Flournoy -- who would be the first woman in the spot.

♦ Education. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the former Chicago schools chief, wants to stay -- and there is no plan for a change.

♦ Attorney General. Attorney General Eric Holder would like to leave eventually -- but does not want to seem as if he were run out of office over the "Fast and Furious" gun-running controversy. The top name to replace him is Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

♦ Transportation. A bit back, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood signaled one term might be enough; I'm told he may be persuaded to stay on -- at least for a while.

♦ Agriculture. Secretary Tom Vilsack was interested in staying -- but that was when his wife, Christie, was running for an Iowa House seat. She lost Tuesday, so the couple may be rethinking their future.

The inauguration

Planning has already started for Obama to be sworn into his second term -- with the date a historic footnote.

The 57th presidential inauguration is to take place on Jan. 21. Say what? The 20th Amendment to the Constitution in 1933 set the date at noon Jan. 20.

Why the next day? According to the House/Senate committee handling inauguration ceremonies, the 2013 inauguration marks the seventh time since 1933 that Jan. 20 in an inauguration year has landed on a Sunday.

(video by Jon Sall)

(video by Lynn Sweet)

(video by Lynn Sweet)

CHICAGO--President Barack Obama should not spend too long relishing his stunning victory.

In a few days he has to confront a divided Congress -- albeit with a vastly strengthened hand -- to prevent the nation from falling off the "fiscal cliff" at the end of the year.

Obama in his first term never achieved the post-partisan era he promised when he ran the first time. Now he has a second chance.

How will he govern? How will he break through a gridlocked Republican House and a Democratic Senate that the election also yielded?

He will have his first test very soon. Congress meets again Nov. 13, staring at an end-of-year deadline to avoid that fiscal cliff during the lame-duck session. The issues are the very ones that defined the 2012 presidential contest: taxes, the skyrocketing national debt and the budget. If Congress does not act by Dec. 31 on these inter-related matters, a series of automatic cuts kick in under the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Obama whipped Mitt Romney in a race the Republicans said he could never win as long as unemployment was high. Yet Obama beat Romney in most of the nine battleground states where this election was most fiercely fought.

That certainly makes him stronger in dealing with Congress. And the Republicans in the House could or should know that a rejection of Romney could be seen in part as an affirmation of the Obama agenda.

Will the GOP leadership give Obama running room?

I caught up with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 leader in the Senate, at McCormick Place as he was leaving to connect with Obama before returning to the hall for the election night celebration.

"We are just weeks away from seeing something none of us want to see happen," he told me.

Obama will, of course, reach out to GOP leaders.

But it is a two-way street.

"It is important that we have some kind of effort I hope by the leadership on the Republican side to say this campaign is over, we are ready to work," Durbin said.

One of the biggest mistakes of Obama and his team was not figuring out a way to blunt the rise of the Tea Party movement. A lot depends on how the GOP deals with its right wing in the wake of Romney's defeat.

"I don't want to be too negative," Durbin said, "but they [the Tea Party] have not been helpful at all and I don't know if there is a change of heart after this election."

Obama will get pressure from his own ranks -- from the progressives who fault him even as he won a second term -- as too ready to compromise.

In his victory speech, Obama reached out to Romney. "In the weeks ahead, I also look forward to sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward."

The biggest thing Obama has going for him is that he does not have hanging over him another campaign. He can use all the fight he talked about in the closing days of the campaign to see if he can do it right this time around.

(video by Lynn Sweet)

CHICAGO--The Obama election night event at McCormick Place will include grass roots supporters, big donors, staffers--and celebrities. I've obtained a list of who is expected to be here tonight; here is the Who's Who:

Aisha Tyler

Melanie Griffith

Ben McKenzie

Stevie Wonder


Vivica Fox

Star Jones

Adewale Ogunleye

Wade Davis

Chris Walla

BD Wong

Mary J Blige

Zach Quinto

Ashley Judd

Alfre Woodard

Lynn Whitfield

Justin Long


(Video by Marcus Gilmer)

Bruce Springsteen at Columbus, Ohio rally for President Barack Obama at Nationwide Arena performs "Land of Hope and Dreams" before Obama speaks.
(video by Lynn Sweet)

CHICAGO--Vice President Joe Biden and wife Jill are touching down in battleground Ohio--in Cleveland-on Election Day en route to Chicago. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are also doing a last-minute stop in the city. The Biden visit had not been on his daily public schedule.

obamaphonebank.jpgPresident Barack Obama calls a volunteer from a campaign office in Hyde Park on Tuesday. | Getty Images

CHICAGO--President Barack Obama is spending Election Day morning at the Fairmont Hotel doing satellite television interviews with outlets in battleground states, but before arriving, he stopped by a Hyde Park campaign field office to make calls to get-out-the-vote--and say the campaign with Mitt Romney was "hard fought."

In a contest that may end up a photo finish, both Obama and Romney were working to turnout their vote: After voting in Belmont, Mass., Romney was flying to Cleveland, Ohio and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on election day, before returning to Boston. Paul Ryan voted in Janesville, Wisc. before heading to Cleveland and Richmond, Virginia.

Vice President Joe Biden and wife Jill voted in Wilmington, Delaware and then stopped in Cleveland--the visit was not announced on their public schedule--before heading to Chicago--where they also will be doing a series of battleground state interviews.

Obama spent Monday night at his Kenwood home where he will also stay on Tuesday. After electioneering chores--or between--he will play his traditional election day basketball game with buddies--eat dinner at home--and then at some point motorcade downtown. He will end the night at McCormick Place, where he will make a victory or concession speech--or something in-between if the results are not known.

Obama joined the phone bank at the Hyde Park field office--at Harper Ave. and Hyde Park Blvd.--to make six calls and then tipped his hat to Romney for running a "spirited campaign" and a "hard-fought race" as he predicted he would have "the votes to win."

Talking to the press pool, Obama said, "The great thing about these campaigns is after all the TV ads and all the fundraising and all the debates and all the electioneering, it comes down to this. One day and these incredible folks who are working so hard, making phone calls, making sure that people go out to vote. So I just want to say thank you to the American people.

"It's a source of great optimism for me whenever I come to Election Day because I end up having so much confidence in the decency and goodness and wisdom of the very folks who are working so hard trying to move their own small piece of this country forward."

Turning to the contest with Romney, Obama said, "I also want to say to Governor Romney, congratulations on a spirited campaign. I know that his supporters are just as engaged and just as enthusiastic and working just as hard today. We feel confident we've got the votes to win that it's going to depend ultimately on whether those votes turn out. And so I would encourage everybody on all sides just to make sure that you exercise this precious right that you have that people fought so hard for, for us to have," Obama said.

"I'm looking forward to the results. And I expect that we'll have a good night. But no matter what happens, I just want to say how much I appreciate everybody who has supported me, everybody who has worked so hard on my behalf. And again, I want to congratulate Gov. Romney and his team for a hard-fought race as well. OK?"

Obama is doing interviews today with--and this is a partial list--stations in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Miami, Tampa, Washington D.C. (covers the northern Virginia market), Denver and Las Vegas.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- "Ohio, I'm not ready to give up on the fight," President Barack Obama is saying Monday at the second-to-the-last rally of the final day of his last election campaign. "I've got a whole lot of fight left in me, and I hope you do, too."

Obama is at the Nationwide Arena here, with Bruce Spring­steen and Jay-Z as his warm-up acts -- Springsteen a bit zany doing an imitation of Obama singing Al Green. "I believe that the president has musical aspirations," Springsteen quipped, "which is why I'm trying to get him elected . . . got to keep the competition away."

Springsteen was with Obama at his last Ohio rally four years ago -- it was in Cleveland and much larger -- and returned with him for his final stand in the Buckeye state on Monday. But as we all know, no matter how much fight Obama says he has in him -- it's not up to him.

The voters decide Tuesday in a contest that is almost too close to call, despite each side and their allies throwing in at least $1 billion each. Mitt Romney could win -- but I am guessing Obama pulls it out after a 2012 contest as grim as the 2008 election was uplifting.

The rally is boisterous -- this is Obama's crowd after all, and who doesn't love the Boss and Jay-Z -- with demographic diversity like you never see at a Romney event: black, white, old, young. This rally is close to Ohio State University -- and that's no accident. Obama's votes come from campus towns and cities.

Bellwether Ohio is the major battleground, with the brawl for its 18 electoral votes fierce -- no Republican has won the White House without this state. That's a reason why Romney's campaign plane touched down at the airport here a short time after the Obama rally for Romney's election eve visit.

Hold on -- it is not really election eve here -- Ohio voters have been at it for a month.

For all the splash and pizzazz of rallies, the mechanics of elections are what often win it for candidates, and Obama's team has been at it for years. In 2008, Obama's campaign realized the potential of corralling early votes, while Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) never built a deep ground game.

Romney did not make that mistake; his campaign built get-out-the-vote operations aimed at the early vote. Exploiting the potential of early voting has been a hallmark of the 2012 presidential election. Why vote early? You never know when a hurricane is going to strike.

"How many have early voted around here?" Obama asked the crowd, and it seemed, by the shouts back at him, a heck of a lot had.

Marna Fitzpatrick, 32, a digital advertising marketer from Dublin -- wearing an "Obama mama" T-shirt -- was at the rally and told me she tried to vote early: "I went and made an effort to go twice." But the line was too long each time. She will vote in person on Tuesday.

In a few hours, we'll know whether Obama has four more years to fight for all the change he has been promising us.

Said Obama: "We've come too far to turn back now. We've come too far to let our hearts grow faint. Now's the time to keep pushing forward."

CHICAGO--Mitt Romney flies to Cleveland and Pittsburgh on Tuesday for election day campaigning in battleground states before heading back to Boston--where his campaign is headquartered--for an election night appearance at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. Paul Ryan is also stumping today.

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BEACHWOOD, Ohio -- The contest between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney is ending so close, I'm wondering if I should be booking a room for the Ohio recount.

Kidding aside, this has been a long, nasty slog, starting with the GOP primary last year.

It will end in a few hours.

Obama flies to Chicago tonight, and unlike 2008 -- when it was clear he was going to beat Sen. John McCain -- Tuesday will be tougher.

We'll see if he continues his election day tradition of playing basketball -- or if he will be using Tuesday exclusively to make turnout calls until polls close in the battleground states deciding who will be the next president. In 2008, Obama jetted over to an Indiana phone bank before hitting the gym in Chicago.

New polls from Pew Research and NBC/WSJ suggest that Obama has been bolstered by his handling of Hurricane Sandy. Battleground state surveys show a lean toward Obama -- but are too close to call. The Columbus Dispatch on Sunday had Obama at 50 percent to 48 percent for Romney -- a toss-up. CNN/ORC International on Sunday put the national number at 49 percent each for Obama and Romney.

I welcomed the Sunday morning email from Obama's main SuperPAC -- the one Mayor Rahm Emanuel is raising money for -- because the message said "final ads" in the subject line. By the way, Politico reported a few days ago that Emanuel was calling unions asking for donations of "at least six-figures and in at least one case requested a union contribute $1 million."

Toss-up Ohio, with 18 electoral votes, remains the top prize in the quest for 270 electoral votes to win the White House. The Obama and Romney teams -- or their top surrogates -- have been commuting here daily in the closing chapter of the contest.

The deadlocked rivals were working their base votes in the battleground states Sunday where an investment of their time may still make a difference. On Sunday, Obama visited Concord, N.H. -- where he twined with former President Bill Clinton -- then Hollywood, Fla., Cincinnati and a late night in Denver.

Romney was in Des Moines, Cleveland, Newport News, Va., and Morrisville, Pa.

Vice President Joe Biden and wife Jill and Rep. Paul Ryan also were in Ohio.

Romney and Obama close out their Ohio quest with rallies in Columbus on Monday a few hours apart -- with Obama bringing with him Bruce Springsteen and Jay-Z.

This being the final Sunday before the election, and with polls open between 1 and 5 p.m., in Ohio, the Obama team was running its "souls to the polls" get-out-the vote-after-church program aimed at African Americans.

The closing stump speeches of Obama and Romney are instructive in that as the campaign has progressed, Romney, needing a snapping slogan, simply lifted one from Obama. Romney's team even picked the same powder blue for their "real change" signs.

That Obama let his "hope and change" mantra of 2008 slip through his fingers -- starting, lets say, with the rise of the Tea Party movement in 2009 -- is understandable, since his 2008 campaign was aspirational. He had no record to defend.

On the final weekend of the campaign, Obama has been on the defensive over the change claim. Romney has been hitting him hard on that point. One of his most potent appeals -- it seems to me -- has been wooing disappointed 2008 Obama voters.

In Cleveland, Romney, who appeared with country music singer Rodney Atkins, said, "The question of this election comes down to this. Do you want four more years of the same, or do you want real change?

"Now, President Obama promised change but he couldn't deliver it. I not only promise change, I have a record of achieving it."

Obama, in Hollywood, Fla., said, "Governor Romney is a very talented salesman. So in this campaign, he's tried as hard as he can to repackage these old ideas that didn't work and pretend that they're new ideas, and he's offering them up as change. But here's the thing, Florida. We know what change looks like."

Said Obama, "What Governor Romney is offering ain't it."

BEACHWOOD, Ohio--President Barack Obama Chicago pal and Obama campaign treasurer Martin Nesbitt is on the stump with the president as Air Force One hits the battleground states.

Nesbitt was with Obama on the campaign plane for the closing chapter in 2008. Nesbitt is also a basketball playing buddy. Obama played basketball on every primary election day (but one) and went to a Chicago gym on general election day in 2008. Will there be a game Tuesday?

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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