Why Obama is speaking in Springfield Wednesday

  • President Barack Obama will speak in Springfield Wednesday, and he's expected to discuss less divisive politics.

    President Barack Obama will speak in Springfield Wednesday, and he's expected to discuss less divisive politics. Associated Press

  • Then-Senator Barack Obama waves to the crowd with his family in Springfield after announcing his bid for president in 2007.

      Then-Senator Barack Obama waves to the crowd with his family in Springfield after announcing his bid for president in 2007. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 2/10/2016 5:01 AM

President Barack Obama's visit to Springfield Wednesday will return him to the city where he launched his presidential campaign exactly nine years ago and provide a backdrop for his expected message of less divisive politics.

The onetime state senator's return comes when Illinois is mired in a historically long budget fight between Republicans and Democrats that has led to deep social service cuts and predictions the stalemate could endure virtually all year.

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"There has always sort of been the sense that going back to Springfield on the anniversary of his announcement speech would be fun to do," Obama spokesman Josh Earnest said. "And it would serve as the background for a discussion about the kind of potential that the president sees in the country."

Will it matter?

Obama doesn't want to be a "back-seat driver for running the state government of Illinois," Earnest said.

Gov. Bruce Rauner, speaking Monday in Wheeling, told reporters he's looking forward to Obama's speech and tried to draw some comparisons between the president and himself. Rauner has been at odds with Democrats in Springfield, unable to find enough takers for the pro-business ideas he calls the Turnaround Agenda and many Democrats call anti-worker.

"The president has been facing headwinds from Congress and the different political parties. Both sides have been at loggerheads and really blocking each other for years," Rauner said. "And we here in Springfield, I from the Republican party, the legislature supermajority controlled by Democrats, we've been at loggerheads. It doesn't really serve the people well."

Regional Transportation Authority Chairman Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale said he's been asked by the White House to be on hand for an event after Obama's speech, perhaps to talk to national reporters about his time serving with Obama in the Illinois Senate.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

He said the administration hasn't given him any "talking points" to prepare.

"I'm honored to be asked," he said.

Obama's "better politics" theme is one he first embraced in a 2004 Democratic National Convention speech that pushed him into the national spotlight.

Video still available online shows Obama talking about the idea in late 2004 in his last Illinois Capitol news conference before going to the U.S. Senate. He answers questions from a small group of reporters in a briefing room in an event that's a far cry from the heavily secured speech that will mostly shut down the Capitol for several hours Wednesday.

In that Springfield speech, Obama argued campaigns are about each side painting a caricature of the other, and that it isn't helpful.

"The Republicans caricature the liberals as family-hating, religion-hating, soft on crime, soft on defense, spend all your money on programs that don't work," Obama said then. "And then the Democrats caricature the Republicans as intolerant, small-minded, saber-rattling, protectors of the wealthy."

"The slogans and the caricature don't capture the reality of people's lives," he said.

Obama, now in his last year as president, talked in that Springfield speech about working with President George W. Bush, a Republican then in his last term.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"What you'd like to think is that the president is now more concerned with his legacy than he is with politics," Obama said then. "That may present an opportunity when the president says, 'I want to get some things done.'"

A few years later, on Feb. 10, 2007, Obama announced his candidacy for president while standing in front of the Old State Capitol building in Springfield, where Abraham Lincoln served as a state lawmaker.

In Wednesday's speech, Rauner is also hoping Obama will bring up the idea of term limits and redistricting reform, which are two Rauner priorities. Obama talked about national redistricting changes during his final State of the Union address.

The president is scheduled to visit a performing arts center a few blocks away after his address to talk to "supporters, stakeholders and volunteers," but the White House hasn't said who specifically will attend.

The Capitol will be closed to employees and the public before 10 a.m. Wednesday, and after that, only credentialed people will be allowed in.

• Daily Herald staff writers Mary Hansen and Erin Hegarty contributed to this story.

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