Pool report: President speaks to supporters at Birthday House Parties across US...
President Obama attended two campaign fundraisers in Chicago on Wednesday night on the eve of his 50th birthday. The big party was held at the Aragon Entertainment Center on the Northside, with dinner and performances by Chicago natives Jennifer Hudson, Herbie Hancock and OK GO.
At the start of the event, the President, from a back room, spoke via video teleconference to supporters attending more than 1,000 Obama for America Birthday House Parties being held across the US, before making remarks to the guests at the Aragon. He told his supporters how to campaign for him in the 2012 election cycle, and was treated to renditions of "Happy Birthday" from two of the groups he spoke with. The President took three questions from supporters during his video interlude. Details on ticket prices for the events are here. (Above: President Obama during his remarks later in the eveining)
The pool report on the video conference:
President Obama said the 2012 election "in some ways may be more important than the last one" and encouraged supporters to talk about "values."
He appeared on the screen just before 7 pm. It looks like he’s in an equipment room. Behind him was a computer screen, a drum, a couple microphones, storage chests stacked up and sound equipment. (Maybe it was the web camera but he looks like he’s gotten a birthday hair cut). Mr. Obama took three questions - all from important electoral states: North Carolina, Ohio and Michigan.
"I am beaming in from Chicago. Having a little birthday celebration in my home town," Mr. Obama said. He remarked that he could hear the El train in the background, which pool could hear too.
“When we started this whole journey… this was not going to be about me… this was going to be about grassroots folks." ...
“What is true in 2008 is just as true today. We’ve obviously been in a lot of battles," he said.
“So as we gear back up to fight some tough battles," he said, remarking that they saw this past week how tough those battles are going to be, he needs them to be involved…
He asked supporters to corner their Republican uncles who aren’t persuaded yet, and to talk about him around the water cooler.
“You’re the best ambassador we can have," Mr. Obama said. "So I just want to emphasize to you how important you are."
1st question was from Alyssa in North Carolina, who had about 10 people behind her. They sang Happy Birthday to him.
POTUS smiled and bobbed his head. “Y’all have great voices,” he said after they finished.
He thanked them for their work and said he can’t wait to see them at the convention in Charlotte. And he offered some organizing advice.
“You’ve got to listen as much as you talk,” Mr. Obama said. “What are their concerns? What’s keeping them up at night?"
He encouraged them to “talk about values.”
So if somebody asks about taxes, he said, "what they want to know is our campaign stands for a fair, just approach to the tax code that says everybody has to chip in. And it’s not right if a hedge fund manager is being taxed at a lower rate than his or her secretary. That’s a values issue.”
On Iraq, he said the advice is simple: the war is ending.
Afghanistan: We think it’s time to transition to an Afghan lead.
“It’s Jeremy’s job to make sure that you guys have good talking points," he said, adding that on any issue on any given week they should be updated on where the White House stands. [Ed. Note: Jeremy Bird, field director for the campaign]
In coming weeks and months, he said he will put forward plans to improve infrastructure to put construction workers back to work; and plans to extend the payroll tax cut for employees. The issues will change week to week and people should get a sense of what the White House is doing, he said.
When organizing for him and answering people's questions, he said, "Sometimes it’s not so bad to say I don’t know." If someone asks, 'where does the president stand on Cypress?' for instance, which made the group laugh, he said to just tell them they’re not sure but will find out an answer.
2nd question was from Maureen in Shaker Heights, Ohio, who had a couple dozen people holding sign that wishing the president Happy Birthday. Her question was: If you were asking someone to volunteer what would you ask them?
It’s about being part of a community and going out there and talking to fellow members of your community about values, Mr. Obama said. He said to make sure people feel ownership of the process, make it a community event.
He said they should be asking people to get engaged because “the future is going to be determined by this election.”
"We’ve already seen over the last week just how different the two visions are in terms of which direction we should take the country," Mr. Obama said. "This is a really important moment in our history.” He said the debate over the last week made clear who’s going to look out for working people.
“I couldn’t be more appreciative of you guys," he said. And waved goodbye to the camera as Maureen and her group shouted “Happy Birthday!”
3rd question came from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Mr. Bird read it: What’s the most important thing we can do to further your campaign?
Mr. Obama said not to just give people a laundry list of things he’s already done. “This democracy works when people get involved. ... The more this is a bottom up as opposed to a top down organization," he said.
“You own this campaign. You own this country, and if you use that power that you've got then we’re going to be able to continue to get all the things done we want to get done," he said.
He acknowledged the frustration Democrats have felt. “This past week was a frustrating week," he said.
He said the 2012 election "in some ways may be more important than the last one."
In the future he said he wants to work on: immigration, economy, energy policy, tax reform, reducing the deficit and debt in “responsible” way.
Once the video teleconference ended, Mr. Obama moved to make his remarks at the larger event in the ballroom of the Aragon.
*Pooler was Carol E. Lee of Wall Street Journal