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Obama Heads Home to Chicago to Help Friend Seeking His Old Seat

President Barack Obama told Democrats in Chicago yesterday that they need to rally behind him to beat Republicans in November’s elections, as he tried to boost the chances of the man seeking the U.S. Senate seat he once held.

Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias is “not in it for the special interests, he’s in it for your interest,” Obama said at the Drake Hotel. “I hope you’re fired up. I need it.”

The president’s appearances at two fundraising events marked his second visit in a little more than two months for Giannoulias, who is also scheduled to receive a fundraising stop next week from first lady Michelle Obama.

Obama has placed his political capital and prestige on the line for the race, which offers a symbolic referendum on the president.

Mark Kirk, the Republican nominee, and Giannoulias have spent much of their campaign debating who is least trustworthy. Giannoulias has dealt with fallout from the April failure of his family’s Broadway Bank, while Kirk was forced to apologize for exaggerating his biography.

Obama criticized the “Pledge to America” that Republicans have offered voters as a plan for governing if they win majorities in Congress, calling it the “same stuff they’ve been peddling for years.”

Republicans are counting on apathy among Democrats, he said, urging donors to “prove ‘em wrong.”

Fundraising Trips

Obama is making more fundraising and voter mobilization appearances as the Nov. 2 election draws closer. Earlier yesterday, he appeared at an event to boost Maryland’s Democratic governor, Martin O’Malley.

Giannoulias, 34, is the Illinois state treasurer and an occasional Obama basketball buddy, while Kirk, 51, is a five-term congressman from Chicago’s northern suburbs. The two are scheduled to debate this weekend on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The Chicago Tribune, the state’s largest newspaper, posted an endorsement of Kirk on its website at about time Obama was getting off Air Force One. The Chicago Sun-Times endorsed Giannoulias.

Pat Brady, chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, told reporters on a conference call yesterday that Obama’s visit is the equivalent of a Republican president needing to rally supporters in a party stronghold such as Alabama.

“If they have to bring in this kind of horsepower in a state like Illinois, which has been blue for a while, then the party in general is in trouble,” Brady said.

Brady highlighted the state’s 10.1 percent unemployment rate in August, Illinois’ $6.1 billion in unpaid bills and that it has the largest retirement underfunding among U.S. states. Democrats control all statewide offices.

Democrats ‘Mess’

“It could not get any worse in Illinois, and the blame for that mess rests solely on the Democrats,” he said.

The first family visits could rekindle local interest in the Senate race that has faded amid an unexpected mayoral race that may feature Obama’s former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.

The return of Emanuel to Chicago to explore a potential mayoral bid to replace retiring Mayor Richard M. Daley has overshadowed the Senate race this month.

Emanuel has secured Obama friend and fundraiser Mellody Hobson, president of Chicago-based Ariel Investments LLC, as a co-chairwoman for a potential campaign.

Campaign Funding

Obama netted about $1 million for Giannoulias when they last appeared together in Chicago on Aug. 5. Giannoulias raised less than half as much as Kirk during the quarter that ended June 30, the most recent total available, and had about one-fourth as much in the bank.

Scott Burnham, a spokesman for the Giannoulias campaign, said Obama would help raise more than $750,000 during this visit, to be shared with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

After his talk at the hotel, Obama attended a fundraiser at the Chicago home of Leslie Bluhm, the daughter of billionaire Neil Bluhm, who is managing principal of Walton Street Capital LLC of Chicago and was a fundraiser for Obama’s 2008 presidential bid.

The president was greeted at O’Hare International Airport by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, a Democrat trailing in polls against Republican state Senator Bill Brady, who is not related to his state party’s chairman.

Since June, Giannoulias has had fundraising visits from Vice President Joe Biden, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Obama senior adviser David Axelrod, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina and 2008 presidential campaign manager David Plouffe, who is helping the administration in the midterm elections.

Outside Groups

Outside groups and political parties spent about $3.4 million in Illinois last month, Federal Election Commission records show. That made it the fourth-most active state for independent expenditures, which aren’t coordinated with candidates, after Missouri, Colorado and Pennsylvania.

Obama’s Chicago visit was part of a White House effort to fight a tide in November’s congressional elections that threatens Democratic control of the House and possibly the Senate. The party’s loss of the Illinois seat would boost Republican chances of gaining the 10 needed to win a Senate majority.

A Chicago Tribune/WGN-TV poll taken Sept. 24-28 showed Giannoulias held a statistically insignificant lead of 38 percent to 36 percent. The survey, which showed 17 percent undecided, had a 4 percentage-point error margin.

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