A few weeks after Barack Obama was elected president, he told this reporter in his transition headquarters in a Chicago high-rise that he planned to return to his home town every six weeks or so.
That turned out to be a naïve assessment from someone not yet intimately familiar with the demands and logistical challenges of the American presidency, much less the comforts of Camp David.
Presidential fundraising, however, has helped cure Obama’s homesickness, bringing him back to the nation’s third most populous city again and again. His next visit is this weekend, when he’ll attend three fundraisers on a single Sunday afternoon, including one at his own home.
Inviting his closest — and wealthiest — friends to the inner sanctity of his upscale Kenwood neighborhood home is a rarity for Obama. It also shows the urgency with which he’s trying to compete for money against Republican Mitt Romney.
While Wall Street and Hollywood remain critical fundraising hubs for Obama, Chicago has proven to be an equally reliable source. He’s raised $8.4 million from the Chicago area so far, according to the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics. That’s more than from San Francisco and not much less than from Los Angeles, a significantly larger metro area.
Since the start of his 2012 campaign fundraising, Obama has visited Chicago four times with roughly a dozen different fundraising events in the city.
The president isn’t alone in tapping Chicago’s loyalty for the re-election campaign. Romney stopped by this week and collected more than $2 million, although the city itself is dominated by Democrats.
Vice President Joe Biden swung through Chicago on July 30 for a fundraiser to benefit himself and his boss’ re-election chances. On June 26, First Lady Michelle Obama appeared at two Chicago fundraisers, playing up her roots and telling those gathered she knows “where I’m from.”
The New York metropolitan area, the most populated in the U.S., has contributed $13.8 million to Obama so far, Center for Responsive Politics data shows. That’s followed by $9.4 million from the Los Angeles area, $8.4 million from the Chicago area and $6.4 million from the San Francisco area.
With 57, Illinois ranks third for total number of Obama campaign bundlers — people who raise large amounts from other donors — behind New York and California, according to the center’s data. That’s down from 2008, when Illinois was second only to California.
At a July 30 fundraiser at the NoMad Hotel in New York, Obama told a story he often tells his donors.
“I’ve got a friend in Chicago some of you may know — Ab Mikva,” he said, referring to the former federal judge and White House counsel. “He described being friends with a politician as perpetually having somebody in college — every so often you have to write this check and, fortunately, I’m about to graduate.”
Then, a donor in the audience asked him whether he would be calling on them for donations to a presidential library after he leaves the White House.
“No, no, no,” he responded to laughter. “Somebody else will make that call.”
Many of those callers — and donors — for the presidential library will almost certainly hail from Chicago.