President Barack Obama returned to his hometown of Chicago for the first time in more than three months to help raise money for U.S. House Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections and warn his supporters against complacency.
At two events where tickets ranged from $1,000 per person to $32,400 per couple, Obama urged attendees to work for the election of Democratic congressional candidates, saying he has unfinished work on his agenda.
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"Do not get complacent" he said at a hotel in downtown Chicago. The political system in Washington "is broken but it's not permanently broken."
The president was joined tonight by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and U.S. Representative Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the fundraising arm of House Democrats.
Republicans have a 234-201 majority in the House. Democrats need a net gain of 17 seats to regain control of the chamber after losing it in 2010. While taking back the House would probably end investigations into his administration's actions and give Obama a better chance of getting his agenda through Congress, the party would still have to buck historical trends and overcome an unfavorable electoral map.
"It's not a hill they have to climb, it's increasingly looking like a mountain," said Stu Rothenberg, editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report in Washington. "I don't know anybody who thinks House Democrats have much of a chance" of gaining 17 seats.
Obama has promised to be the star attraction at more than a dozen fundraising events for the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the DCCC, the group benefiting tonight. So far, the president has been the headliner at 10 appearances in the past two months in Washington, New York, Atlanta, Dallas and San Francisco.
"We got politics that are stuck," Obama told the crowd in Chicago. People "are thinking about the next election instead of the next generation."
A spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, Michael Czin, said he didn't know how much money Obama has helped Democrats raise so far, though it's in the millions. In one event with 60 people in Dallas last month, Obama helped raise between $600,000 and $1.9 million.
In Chicago, the first fundraiser was at a Hilton Hotel. The second was a dinner at the home of Bettylu and Paul Saltzman, longtime Obama supporters. Bettylu Saltzman is a longtime party activist and Obama supporter who first met him at a voter registration drive in 1992.
About 150 supporters were expected to attend the first event, where ticket prices range from $1,000 per person to $5,000 per couple.
The DCCC said 70 people were expected at the dinner, where ticket prices range from $10,000 per person to $32,400 per couple. A dinner table costs $50,000, according to the invitation.
In the 2012 election cycle, the campaign committee spent $184 million to support House Democratic candidates, according to Federal Election Commission figures. As of April 30, the committee had $10.4 million in the bank, compared with $8.7 million for its Republican counterpart.
All 435 House seats are up for election in 2014. Because of the way districts are drawn up by the states, most are considered safe for either the Democratic or Republican candidate. Rothenberg said there are only 50 House seats in play in 2014, with 25 seats held by Democrats and 25 held by Republicans.
"The playing field is quite small," he said.
IRS selective screening of anti-tax groups, Justice Department collection of telephone records of some Associated Press reporters and editors and further questions on the Obama administration's handling of the September 2012 assault on a U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, have made the odds tougher for a Democratic takeover of the House, Rothenberg said.
"It's motivated Republicans" and "that adds to the president's problems," Rothenberg said. "It started off as a very tough task, and now it's gotten tougher."
Obama is scheduled to return to Washington tomorrow afternoon.