Image: Barack Obama
Nam Y. Huh  /  AP
President Barack Obama wears a Chicago Bulls basketball cap as he speaks at a DNC fundraising event at Navy Pier in Chicago on Thursday.
By
updated 4/15/2011 8:48:15 AM ET 2011-04-15T12:48:15

President Barack Obama restarted his formidable fundraising operation Thursday with a challenge to supporters that the 2012 presidential campaign will be about how to fix the country's money problems without doing harm to "the America we believe in."

"We are going to be able to present a very clear option to the American people," the president told Chicago hometown supporters in his first fundraisers since formally announcing his re-election last week. "We can get our fiscal house in order, but we can do it in a way that is consistent with our values and who we are as a people. Or we can decide to shrink our vision of what America is. And I don't believe in shrinking America."

Bracing for a fight against re-energized Republicans determined to deny him a second term, the president sought Thursday to reanimate supporters who swept him into the White House in 2008 on promises of change — including liberals disappointed at his compromises with the GOP.

Obama's first 2012 campaign speech

He did so by offering a stinging critique of GOP budget proposals that would cut deeply into social programs, education and elsewhere, accusing Republicans of a slash-and-burn approach that says "we can't afford to be compassionate."

"Under their vision we can't invest in roads and bridges ... we would be a nation of potholes," the president told a high-dollar group at MK restaurant, the second of three fundraisers he held Thursday night in the city that launched his political career and where he's headquartering his re-election.

Video: Race for the White House heats up (on this page)

GOP on Obama: 'Campaigner-in-chief'
The president made his remarks a day after delivering a speech on deficit reduction in Washington in which he made similar charges about Republicans as the author of the GOP budget plan, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, watched from the front row.

Ryan and other Republicans later accused Obama of lobbing overly partisan political broadsides without delivering many specifics about his own plans. The president's attacks marked a change in tone from the more subdued approach he'd taken since Democrats were routed in the November midterm elections.

Story: Obama: Cut spending, raise taxes on wealthy

Obama defended himself Thursday.

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"The speech I gave yesterday was not a partisan shot at the other side. It was an attempt to clarify the choice that we have as a country right now," he told donors at Nine restaurant.

Obama said he agreed with the need to rein in spending and trim crushing deficits, but argued that Republicans would do so while slashing areas like education, energy and transportation that he said must be preserved to ensure American competitiveness.

Republicans pounced on Obama for pivoting from deficit reduction to raising money even as a critical spending debates loom. "Campaigner-in-chief kicks of fundraising circuit," read a release from the Republican National Committee.

First Thoughts: 2012 race is off and running

2012 budget battle
The president indicated he was well aware of the big fights yet to come. He described the budget negotiations that nearly resulted in a government shutdown last week as "the appetizer that was just the trial run."

In coming months the parties will square off over the budget for the 2012 fiscal year, competing plans for bringing down deficits, raising the debt limit to avoid an unprecedented default on U.S. debt obligations, and other issues.

Among numerous other disagreements, Obama wants to raise taxes on the rich while Republicans oppose that vehemently, and the Republican plan would completely remake Medicare for future beneficiaries, offering them a set sum of money to buy their own care from private insurers. Obama says that would end Medicare as we know it and leave seniors on their own.

The president seemed likely to sustain his argument of Democratic investment versus ruinous Republican cuts as he participated in a series fundraisers that will take him to San Francisco and Los Angeles next week, New York the week after, and elsewhere.

'I'm prepared to finish the job'
Obama raised $750 million in 2008 and could top $1 billion this time around, though he himself acknowledges a need to re-energize the grass-roots supporters and small donors who helped sweep him into the White House.

"This campaign is not my campaign, this is your campaign. And the question is do we finish the job. I'm prepared to finish the job. I hope you are too," he said at MK restaurant.

The last event of the night Thursday, at Chicago's Navy Pier, priced tickets starting at $100 and was aimed at younger supporters. It drew a loud and enthusiastic crowd of 2,300 that was warmed up by Chicago sports stars, including Bulls point guard Derrick Rose. Obama's former chief of staff and Chicago's mayor-elect, Rahm Emanuel, accompanied the president throughout the evening.

Story: The 2012 GOP presidential field

Earlier Obama spoke to about 225 people in all at events at the restaurants Nine and MK, with tickets as high as $35,800. All told the events should raise $2 million or more for Obama's campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

Obama's fundraising push comes as the Republican field begins to take shape, with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum announcing exploratory committees this week.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Race for the White House heats up

  1. Closed captioning of: Race for the White House heats up

    >> 2012 race for the white house has been slow to get going but is heat up on both sides of the aisle. chuck todd is nbc's white house correspondent. this pot is starting to boil.

    >> finally. the president woke up in his chicago home this morning after his first big night of fund-raising. the president and a slew of potential challengers began laying the campaign and issue groundwork.

    >> you guys are the ones who got he started.

    >> reporter: the president is in chicago as the kick-off to what some say will be a multi billion dollar fund raising effort.

    >> we have a caring and ambitious america.

    >> reporter: earlier in an answer interview the president acknowledged playing politics. in 2006 when as a senator he voted against raising the debt ceiling, something he now needs congress to do.

    >> a new senator making what is a political vote as opposed to doing what was important for the country.

    >> reporter: today, the house is expected to vote on paul ryan 's 2012 budget plan.

    >> the ryan budget set it is bar for the debates going forward. president obama has not produced any kind of a plan that would match it.

    >> reporter: passage may not be a slam dunk , even in the republican-controlled house. as the tough cuts in medicare may scare some republicans worried about re-election in 2012 .

    >> this is a tough vote and it will haunt some members, no question.

    >> reporter: meanwhile after a slow start the republican campaign trail is getting crowded. potential candidates were making the rounds. mississippi governor haley barbour was critical of the speech.

    >> >> what was reported is he was saying republicans don't care about old people, children. that's not the right way to solve problems, particularly in divided government .

    >> reporter: former pennsylvania government rick santorum inched closer to getting in the race. money is not an issue for donald trump who continued exploring a campaign run by appearing on the christian broadcasting network where he talked about two failed marriages.

    >> i'm a very hard worker and i have always said it's difficult for a woman to be married to me because i work all the time. that's what this country needs. this country needs somebody that's going to work.

    >> that was the same excuse newt gingrich gave on the same network when he went on to talk about his two failed marriages. among republican primary voters the only attribute worse than multiple marriages is being a lobbyist.

    >> thanks, chuck.

Explainer: The 2012 GOP presidential field

  • A look at the Republican candidates hoping to challenge Barack Obama in the general election.

  • Rick Perry, announced Aug. 13

    Image: Perry
    Sean Gardner  /  REUTERS
    Texas Gov. Rick Perry

    Mere hours before a major GOP debate in Iowa (and a couple of days before the high-interest Ames straw poll), the Perry camp announced that the Texas governor was all-in for 2012.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Texas governor.

    While some on ground in the early-caucus state criticized the distraction, strategists applauded the move and said Perry was giving Romney a run for his money.

    Slideshow: A look at Gov. Rick Perry's political career

    He may face fierce opposition from secular groups and progressives who argue that his religious rhetoric violates the separation of church and state and that his belief that some groups, such as the Boy Scouts of America, should be allowed to discriminate against gays is bigoted.

  • Jon Huntsman, announced June 21

    Image: Jon Hunt
    Mandel Ngan  /  AFP - Getty Images file
    Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman

    Huntsman, a former governor of Utah, made his bid official on June 21 at at Liberty State Park in New Jersey.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former governor of Utah.

    He vowed to provide "leadership that knows we need more than hope" and "leadership that doesn’t promise Washington has all the solutions to our problems."

    The early days of his campaign were clouded with reports of internal discord among senior staffers.

    Slideshow: Jon Huntsman Jr.

    Huntsman, who is Mormon, worked as a missionary in Taiwan and is fluent in Mandarin. But his moderate credentials — backing civil unions for gays and the cap-and-trade energy legislation — could hurt him in a GOP primary. So could serving under Obama.

  • Michele Bachmann, announced on June 13

    Image: Michele Bachmann
    Larry Downing  /  REUTERS
    Rep. Michele Bachmann

    Born and raised in Iowa, this Tea Party favorite and Minnesota congresswoman announced during a June 13 GOP debate that she's officially in the running for the Republican nomination.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Minn. congresswoman.

    Bachmann tells The Associated Press she decided to jump into the 2012 race at this time because she believed it was "the right thing to do."

    She's been criticized for making some high-profile gaffes — among them, claiming taxpayers would be stuck with a $200 million per day tab for President Barack Obama's trip to India and identifying New Hampshire as the site of the Revolutionary War's opening shots.

    Slideshow: The political life of Michele Bachmann

    But Bachmann's proved a viable fundraiser, collecting more than $2 million in political contributions in the first 90 days of 2011 — slightly exceeding the $1.8 million Mitt Romney brought in via his PAC in the first quarter.

  • Rick Santorum, announced on June 6

    Image: Rick Santorum
    Charlie Neibergall  /  AP file
    Former Penn. Sen. Rick Santorum

    A staunch cultural conservative vehemently against abortion and gay marriage, the former Pennsylvania senator hopes to energize Republicans with a keen focus on social issues.

    He announced the launch of a presidential exploratory committee on FOX News, where he makes regular appearances. He make his run official on June 6 in Somerset, Pa., asking supporters to "Join the fight!"

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former Pennsylvania senator.

    No stranger to controversy, Santorum was condemned by a wide range of groups in 2003 for equating homosexuality with incest, pedophilia and bestiality. More recently, Santorum faced criticism when he called Obama’s support for abortion rights “almost remarkable for a black man.”

    Slideshow: Rick Santorum's political life

    Since his defeat by Democrat Robert Casey in his 2006 re-election contest — by a whopping 18 percentage points — Santorum has worked as an attorney and as a think-tank contributor.

    A February straw poll at CPAC had him in twelfth place amongst Republicans with 2 percent of the vote.

  • Mitt Romney, announced on June 2

    Image: Mitt Romney
    Paul Sancya  /  AP file
    Former Massachusetts Gov. and presidential candidate Mitt Romney

    The former Massachusetts governor and 2008 presidential candidate has spent the last three years laying the foundations for another run at the White House — building a vigorous political action committee, making regular media appearances, and penning a policy-heavy book.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former Mass. governor.

    In April, he announced, via YouTube and Twitter, that he'd formed an exploratory commitee. Romney made his run official in Stratham, N.H., on June 2.

    The former CEO of consulting firm Bain & Company and the president of the organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Romney frequently highlights his business background as one of his main qualifications to serve as president.

    Slideshow: Mitt Romney's life in politics

    To capture the nomination, Romney will have to defend the health care overhaul he enacted during his governorship — legislation that bears similarities to the Obama-backed bill despised by many conservatives. He'll also have to overcome the perception of being a flip-flopper (like supporting abortion rights in his 1994 and 2002 bids for office, but opposing them in his '08 run).

    In the first quarter of 2011, he netted some $1.8 million through his PAC "Free and Strong America."

  • Herman Cain, announced on May 21

    Image: Herman Cain
    Brendan Smialowski  /  Getty Images file
    Talk show host Herman Cain

    Cain, an Atlanta radio host and former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, has support from some Tea Party factions.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Atlanta radio host.

    An African-American who describes himself as a “citizen’s candidate,” he was the first Republican to form a formal presidential exploratory committee. He officially entered the race in May, telling supporters, "When we wake up and they declare the presidential results, and Herman Cain is in the White House, we'll all be able to say, free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, this nation is free at last, again!"

    Prior to the release of President Obama's long-form birth certificate, Cain rehashed the birther theory, telling a Florida blogger, “I respect people that believe he should prove his citizenship ... He should prove he was born in the United States of America.”

  • Ron Paul, announced on May 13

    Image: Ron Paul
    Cliff Owen  /  AP file
    Rep. Ron Paul

    In 2008, Texas congressman Ron Paul’s libertarian rallying cry — and his opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — did not fall on deaf ears. An idiosyncratic foe of the Federal Reserve and a passionate advocate for limited government, Paul mounted a presidential run that was characterized by bursts of jaw-dropping online fundraising.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Texas congressman.

    Slideshow: Ron Paul

    He officially launched his 2012 campaign in New Hampshire, saying, ""The revolution is spreading, and the momentum is building ... Our time has come."

    In the first quarter of 2011, raked in some $3 million through his various political organizations.

  • Newt Gingrich, announced on May 11

    Image: Newt Gingrich
    John M. Heller  /  Getty Images file
    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich

    The former speaker of the House who led the 1994 “Republican Revolution,” Gingrich remains a robust presence on the GOP stage as a prolific writer and political thinker. In recent years, Barack Obama has provided a new target for the blistering critiques Gingrich famously leveled at President Bill Clinton.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former speaker of the House.

    In early May, he made his 2012 run official. "I have been humbled by all the encouragement you have given me to run," Gingrich wrote on Facebook and Twitter.

    But a month later, the campaign was practically in ruins — with his campaign manager, spokesman, senior strategists all resigning en masse. Most cited issues with the "direction" of the campaign. But Gingrich vowed to press on.

    Slideshow: Newt Gingrich

    Also at issue: Gingrich’s personal life could make winning the support of social conservatives thorny for the twice-divorced former lawmaker. In a damning interview earlier this year, Esquire quoted one of Gingrich’s former wives describing him as a hypocrite who preached the sanctity of marriage while in the midst of conducting an illicit affair.

    Additional obstacles include his recent criticism of Rep. Paul Ryan’s fiscal plan as “right-wing social engineering" and reports of a $500,000 line of credit to Tiffany’s, the luxury jewelry company.

  • Gary Johnson, announced on April 21

    Image:Gary Johnson
    Jim Cole  /  AP
    Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson

    The former New Mexico governor took a big leap in late April, not by announcing an exploratory committee, but by actually announcing his official candidacy. “I’m running for president of the United States,” he told a couple of supporters and cameramen gathered for his announcement outside the New Hampshire State Capitol.

    He's a steadfast libertarian who supports the legalization of marijuana. He vetoed more than 700 pieces of legislation during his two terms as governor.

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