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Official White House Photo courtesy of Pete Souza

President Obama speaks at a Democratic campaign  reception in Miami in October 2009. He is scheduled to appear at a fundraiser at Navy Pier in Chicago on Thursday night.

Grass-roots voters will be heart of Obama’s re-election campaign, Navy Pier event

by Katie Banks
April 13, 2011

President Obama is once again asking his supporters to put their money where their mouths are.

Obama kicks off a string of fund-raisers for his second presidential bid in his hometown of Chicago on Thursday. As the first presidential candidate to register with the Federal Election Commission, he is getting a head start on the November 2012 election that’s still 20 months away.

And as in 2008, he is emphasizing the importance of grass-roots voters.

"We're doing this now because the politics we believe in does not start with expensive TV ads or extravaganzas,” Obama said in an e-mail to supporters last week, “but with you—with people organizing block-by-block, talking to neighbors, co-workers, and friends. And that kind of campaign takes time to build.”

With three fund-raising events scheduled for Thursday in Chicago – one at Navy Pier and two at Chicago restaurants – Obama’s campaign aides hope to cash in again on smaller contributions that add up to big bucks.

In his 2008 run, Obama squashed his competitors by raising an unprecedented $750 million. Of that money, Obama’s aides claimed that nearly 80 percent of it came from small donors who contributed between $5 and $200 each.

“His first campaign was driven by grass-roots support, and that’s exactly what this campaign will be about,” Katie Hogan, an Obama campaign press aide, said Wednesday.

This kind of support came out in full force with the launch on April 4 of Obama’s re-election website and posting of a video entitled, “It Begins With Us.”

“In the first 24 hours of his website being up, supporters made more than 23,000 contributions and 96.9 percent of them were for $200 or less,” Hogan reported. 

More than 1,000 people are expected to attend the fund-raiser at Navy Pier Thursday night, according to an Obama campaign aide. Chicago Bulls players Derrick Rose and B.J. Armstrong, and singer Colbie Cailat will vouch for the president.

With tickets as low as $100, the event is a profitable way to get young voters involved.

“The event he is doing at Navy Pier will be similar to the ones he did in ’08 with Gen44,” Hogan said, comparing Thursday’s fundraiser to Obama’s youth-organizing Democratic National Committee branch. “These events tend to be late-night, fun events that keep young and new supporters engaged in the campaign.”

Richard Zacharias, president of University of Chicago Democrats, plans to attend the Navy Pier event. He said it’s obvious why Obama would focus a fundraiser on young voters.

“Given the fact that we at UC, and on other campuses, were able to initiate a strong voter drive and get people registered in Illinois in 2008, it is absolutely a market that the campaign would be tapping in this election,” Zacharias said.

Despite similarities in grass-roots fundraising methods, Obama aides said that voters should not expect to see a doppelganger campaign.

“For this campaign we are not looking to ’08 and trying to exceed expectations,” Hogan said. “What we’re doing is building a whole new operation here.”

According to some speculators, fundraising for that “new operation” could reach a whopping $1 billion.

But the need for funds will likely depend on the nature of the campaign, particularly the announcements of other presidential candidates.

Unlike 2008, when an abundance of funds went toward Obama’s primary battle against Sen. Hillary Clinton, Obama will likely not face a strong Democratic opponent. Thus, the majority of his campaign money can be spent on a strong campaign against a Republican Party nominee.

The Republican National Committee doesn’t need a candidate to start its campaign against Obama, however.

In statement released by the RNC last week, RNC Chairman Reince Preibus said, "Despite a looming government shutdown, a new military operation in Libya and Tax Day around the corner, President Obama made the decision to focus on kicking off his billion dollar campaign…America can't afford four more years of Barack Obama."

Partisan politics aside, those attending the Chicago fund-raisers may get a taste of Obama’s yet-to-be-revealed re-election theme. No longer an underdog senator, Obama cannot rely on a powerful message of much-needed change.

Obama’s re-election video hints that the president will be trying to regain the support of liberals who have criticized his middle-of-the-road policies since he took office.  He also will go after independents who will need to be persuaded that solutions are near for the struggling economy.

"I don't agree with Obama on everything, but I respect him and I trust him," Ed from North Carolina said in the Obama video.

Liberals may be more wary.

“A lot of us are excited to hear Obama,” Zacharias said. “But I would like some things explained. In the past two years there have been a lot of difficulties in the way he has operated juxtaposed with the promises that we got in his first election. I would like to know why it’s impossible for us to have the changes we were really looking forward to.”

Obama is expected to attend more fund-raisers in San Francisco and Los Angeles next week.