Chicago: US President Barack Obama scooped up hometown campaign cash on Wednesday, promising supporters that change can still come if they work even harder this time around as his potential Republican challenger solidified his standing.
A day after former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney`s convincing win in New Hampshire`s GOP primary, which established him as the clear front-runner to take on the President in the fall, Obama`s visit home was all about summoning his backers` enthusiasm for the fight ahead.
"If you`re willing to work even harder in this election than you did in the last election, I promise you, change will come," Obama said at the first of three evening fundraisers, a large event at the University of Illinois at Chicago
"You can`t back down — not now. We won`t give up — not now," Obama said. "We`ve got to send a message we are going to keep pushing and fighting for the change that we believe in."
Obama`s team has castigated Romney at every turn as a political opportunist willing to alter his views — on abortion, the environment and gay marriage — to serve his political purpose.
Without naming Romney, Obama said he had led an administration of principle that has tried to invigorate the economy and kept its promises.
"I`m not a perfect man. I`m not a perfect President, but I promise you this — and I`ve kept this promise — I will always tell you what I believe and I will always tell you where I stand."
"If you stick with me, we`re going to finish what we started in 2008," Obama said.
Obama`s campaign has hauled in more than USD 150 million through September, but Democrats say they will need to compete with Republican-leaning outside groups that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to back specific candidates.
Obama`s event at the University of Illinois had ticket prices starting at USD 44 per person and he attended a pair of pricier fundraisers with tickets ranging from USD 7,500 for one event and USD 35,800 per couple for the other.
At the Lincoln Park home of Fred Eychaner, a Chicago media mogul, Obama joined with some financial backers who had supported him since he served in the Illinois state senate. The President said he had stayed true to the vision he had laid out as a local candidate long ago and his agenda as a presidential candidate four years ago.
"The reason I was successful was not because I was a flawless candidate or I ran a flawless campaign but it was because together we were able to give voice to this shared vision of what America should be. And I want you to know that I have kept faith with that vision all these years," Obama said to a dinner audience that included former Senate colleagues Dick Durbin of Illinois and Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn.
Obama arrived in Chicago on Wednesday on an unseasonably warm early evening, and his motorcade zipped along a barren Lakeshore Drive, cleared of rush-hour traffic, to his downtown campaign headquarters.
The White House said Obama wanted to show his appreciation to his campaign staff with the surprise visit — the president`s first to the headquarters — but the White House kept the moment private. Reporters travelling with the President were not allowed to witness the visit by Obama, who has insisted he is focused on governing, not campaigning.
A White House statement said Obama thanked his staffers for their hard work and encouraged them, saying that he hoped to run "a campaign that embodies the values we`re fighting for”.
Obama`s re-election campaign and the Democratic National Committee set a combined fundraising goal of USD 60 million for the final three months of 2011. The campaign is expected to release its fundraising report before the end of the month.
Romney`s campaign said Wednesday it had collected USD 56 million for the primary through December 31 and has more than USD 19 million in the bank, far outpacing his opponents` fundraising.
Obama told his Chicago supporters that "this will be my last campaign," joking that his one-time mentor, former White House counsel Abner Mikva, used to tell him that "`being friends with a politician is like permanently having a child in college’. Every year, it`s another tuition check. But I`m finally graduating."