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Obama heads to Chicago to raise money and spirits

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President Obama returns home to Chicago on Wednesday for an infusion of campaign cash, and perhaps a dose of the enthusiasm he hopes to reignite in his bid for reelection.

The president’s tour of his hometown will include three fundraisers, including one for younger voters. He is expected to raise more than $2 million with help from some of his longtime backers.

Obama needs more than money as he kicks off the 2012 campaign year. The trip comes as his approval ratings have shown modest improvement after a tough year, but are still hovering between 40% and 45%. Unemployment remains high in the grinding economic recovery. It’s a far different landscape from 2008, when excitement about Obama powered his journey to the White House.

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The president will travel with his chief of staff, fellow Chicagoan William Daley, two days after announcing that Daley is leaving his job at the end of the month. Daley, who joined the White House staff in January 2011 when Rahm Emanuel left to start his successful Chicago mayoral run, will return home in February and serve the campaign in an advisory position.

Daley surprised Obama with the news of his planned departure in a private meeting after returning from a Christmas break. That sent the president scrambling to find a replacement, which he did in his own Office of Management and Budget: Director Jacob Lew.

The rest of Obama’s team remains intact. Top advisors are trying to take advantage of opportunities to raise money and sharpen the president’s message while the Republican presidential hopefuls wage contentious battles in state primaries. With the high-profile New Hampshire primary concluding Tuesday, GOP hopefuls are turning their attention to South Carolina and Florida.

Meanwhile, Obama and his team are putting together an agenda of policy proposals aimed at boosting the economy and job growth. Its unveiling in the president’s State of the Union address at the end of the month will represent Daley’s last major project at the White House.

The day of events in Chicago showcases the other part of Obama’s winter strategy — raise money and reach out to supporters to get involved in the campaign.

Although major fundraisers are important, the campaign also is carefully cultivating the support of young and first-time voters who give in increments of $25 and $50. Obama will attend an event on the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago for about 500 supporters who paid no more than $100 each for their tickets.

Obama will then head to a fundraiser for 60 people at a private residence where tickets cost considerably more — $35,800 per couple. The final event of the night, also at a private residence, is for 100 people who each paid $7,500 for a ticket.

The president has built a substantial campaign war chest. At the end of the third quarter in 2011, the Democrat had raised $86.2 million and had $61.4 million on hand, according to the Center for Public Integrity. Of the GOP candidates, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had raised the most, with $32.2 million, the center reported.

cparsons@latimes.com


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