Obama arrives at O'Hare

President Barack Obama greets supporters as he arrives at O'Hare International Airport Wednesday. (Nuccio DiNuzzo/ Chicago Tribune) (Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune / January 11, 2012)

President Barack Obama returned to the comfort of a supportive hometown Wednesday to raise campaign cash but also faced up to the discomfort of trying to re-energize a political base once built upon hope and change.

Speaking at the first of three fundraising events -- expected to raise about $2 million for his re-election fund and the Democratic National Committee -- Obama urged supporters at the University of Illinois at Chicago Forum to stand with him and step up their efforts to win him a second term.

"Change is hard but it is possible. I've seen it. You've seen it. You have lived it. And If you want to end the cynicism and stop the game playing that passes for politics these days and you want to send a message about what is possible, then you can't back down, not now. We won't give up. Not now," Obama said.

"If you're willing to work even harder in this election than you did in that last election, I promise you change will come," he said.

The 25-minute speech to about 500 people, who paid from $44 to $100, was aimed at rejuvenating those who voted for president for the first time in 2008 as well as attracting new young voters. It was hosted by "CSI:NY" actor Hill Harper, a Harvard Law School classmate of Obama's, and featured singer Janelle Monae.

But talk of an enthusiasm gap among the Obama forces has been an ongoing concern amid questions from some liberals over whether the president had failed to fulfill his promises and from younger voters seeing national policy lurching in spasms of partisan-driven gridlock.

"I don't think he'll get that same euphoria this year that he got back in 2008," said Wendell Mosby of Chicago Heights, a church executive director who volunteered and did fundraising for Obama in the first campaign.

"But we'll still work, raise funds, talk to people," said Mosby. "It's not about euphoria this time around. It's about hard work, about working for what you believe in."

Soon after landing in Chicago, Obama made his first trip to the re-election headquarters his campaign opened in May, delivering a rally-the-troops message to staff and volunteers who fill one full floor of the Prudential Building.

The headquarters looks out over the lakefront Grant Park setting where Chicagoans gathered on a warm November evening to cheer his 2008 election.

The campaign aimed to strengthen ties to real people outside Washington by taking the unusual step of basing a presidential re-election effort outside the Beltway. The move also strengthens the president's home state as an anchor for holding on to other blue-leaning Midwestern states -- like Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan -- while nearby Iowa and Ohio are general election tossups.

Obama acknowledged to the UIC audience that in his desire for change, "I'm not a perfect man. I'm not a perfect president."

The president preached patience again at a $35,800 per couple dinner at the North Side home of campaign bundler, prominent Democratic donor and media mogul Fred Eychaner, the head of Newsweb Corp.

Obama explained to an audience that included Gov. Pat Quinn, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Attorney General Lisa Madigan that he wasn't elected because he was a "flawless candidate," but that he has consistently "kept with that vision" he and supporters see for the nation.

A later reception scheduled for the Hyde Park home of Stuart Taylor, who heads the investment firm The Taylor Group, cost $7,500 per ticket.

Obama stood in the Taylors' dining room and said he recognized many neighbors.

"Is somebody mowing the grass in front of my house? I'm going to go over there and check," he quipped.

Stuart Taylor told him, "Our message to you on behalf of everyone gathered here is very simple and that is: We¹ve got your back."

"If you guys stand with me, if you guys have my back as you guys have had my back for all these years, I guarantee you that we are going to win this election.  We will deliver for the American people.  And I won’t be back here in (my) house for another five years,"  Obama said.