UPDATED 08/03/11 9:48 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — The Uptown neighborhood was host to a big celebration for President Barack Obama on Wednesday, for a combination birthday party and campaign fundraiser.
President Obama’s 50th birthday is actually on Thursday. But after that bruising fight over raising the debt ceiling, he celebrates in Chicago a day early.
Fundraisers have screeched to a halt for Obama since the debt ceiling crisis began. Some 10 fundraisers have had to be scrapped.
The Obama 2012 campaign raised $86 million in the spring quarter, but is well behind its goals for the summer.
But he hoped to make up for that with his 50th birthday concert Wednesday night at the Aragon Ballroom, 1106 W. Lawrence Ave., that featured Chicago natives Herbie Hancock, Jennifer Hudson, and the group OK Go.
Obama talked about the economy, Washington gridlock and much more in front of supporters inside the Aragon. It was all part of two birthday bash fundraisers on Wednesday.
As CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports, the purpose of the quick trip to Chicago was twofold. First, to restart the flow of campaign cash; and they did, raising millions. Second, was to rekindle the spirit of 2008.
By the time Obama left the Aragon, his motorcade speeding down Lawrence Avenue toward the makeshift lakefront heliport, he seemed to have done both.
Maybe it was Jennifer Hudson singing “Happy Birthday.” Maybe it was the warmth he felt from the hometown crowd.
“It doesn’t matter how tough a week I have in Washington, because … I know you’ve got my back when I come to Chicago,” Obama said. “When I travel across the country, I know we can’t be stopped.”
LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Lisa Fielding reports
There were also shout-outs to his friends and political allies, starting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, his former chief of staff.
“I don’t know too many people who love the city of Chicago more than your mayor and I couldn’t be more proud of him,” Obama said.
There was also his former mentor in the Illinois State Senate, former Senate President Emil Jones.
“He will win big, may carry all 50 states next time,” Jones said. “It’s not his fault that the economy … the people know that the previous president left the country in a mess.”
For his own part, Obama said, “We knew the road ahead was going to be difficult, that the climb was going to be steep. I have to admit, I didn’t know how steep the climb was going to be.”
Before the president’s arrival, barricades were set up along Lawrence Avenue from Broadway all the way east to Lake Shore Drive, which had been cleared of traffic for the president’s motorcade.
President Obama is the first to admit that he has a lot more gray hair than when he first took his job, and he says he has “dings and dents,” presumably from his political battles.
But the president says he feels good about reaching the milestone of 50, and he’s spending it with some people who feel good about him.
The event at the Aragon was part birthday party, part concert, part pep rally. Given the week he’s having, the president probably needed the support of a friendly crowd in his hometown.
After all, the battle over the debt ceiling, depressing poll results – to say nothing of hitting the big 50 – can take something out of you.
Before the big party, Emanuel said, “I had to get my hair cut, the president’s showing up. Boss is coming, man. You gotta look good.”
For two years, they were joined at the hip. On Wednesday, the link between President Obama and his first chief of staff – and the President and his hometown – were being highlighted by Obama’s 50th birthday and campaign fundraising festivities; but not always in a favorable light.
A new Mitt Romney campaign ad took a swing at Chicago’s unemployment rate increase, along with declining home values and new layoffs as evidence that President Obama’s policies aren’t working.
Emanuel was quick to defend his city and his former boss.
“In case he needs a rendezvous with his record, when he was governor, Massachusetts was 47th out of 50 in job production. In case he forgot that, I’d like to remind him of that,” Emanuel said.
But a new Rasmussen tracking poll out on Wednesday seemed to indicate more Americans agree with Romney than Emanuel. It showed just 22% of voters surveyed strongly approve of the way the President is performing. 41% percent strongly disapprove.
But one of Obama’s strongest campaign supporters, John Rogers, urged patience.
“As we move into 2012, unemployment numbers will be getting better and better, the housing market will be recovering and the economy will be re-accelerating,” Rogers said. “So I feel very, very confident that we’re moving in the right direction.”
But Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady said Obama’s economic policies have failed.
“He said three years ago that if he couldn’t get the economy turned about in three years – which is today – he’d be a one-term president,” Brady said. “And he hasn’t turned the economy around so I think his policies have been a failure.”
Brady also said now is not the time for Obama to be holding a fundraising party.
A VIP dinner at the Aragon has cost donors as much as $35,800 per ticket, according to published reports. Concert tickets on the low end started at $50 each.
The Aragon is at the center of an area that that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said he would like to see turn into an Uptown music district. The Riviera Theatre, the Green Mill jazz club, and the long-shuttered sometime music venue the Uptown Theatre are also all located nearby.
Incidentally, Obama is expected to be back in the Midwest later this month – for a bus tour – visiting some of the areas hardest hit by the recession. Those areas also are considered crucial to his prospects for re-election.