When President Obama celebrates his 49th birthday, he won't be surrounded by his wife and daughters, who are on summer vacation. He'll spend the night in Chicago, where on Thursday he'll mark the occasion with "friends" — the kind who are willing to part with $30,000 or so for the chance to see the president presented with a birthday cake.
Obama had originally been scheduled to visit Chicago for a slew of fundraisers Thursday — and now the White House says the president will arrive in town half a day early and spend the night in his Hyde Park home. On Thursday, he'll hit three separate fundraisers, including an event for Illinois Democratic Senate hopeful Alexi Giannoulias. That night, Obama will attend what the Chicago Sun-Times has described as a birthday dinner in his honor at the home of billionaire real estate mogul Neil Bluhm. But it's not just any party. It's a major fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee. The price of admission: a $30,400 donation to the DNC or its affiliated committees.
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A Democratic source told The Upshot the Bluhm dinner is not actually being promoted as a "birthday" event, but it coincides with a larger effort by the DNC to use the president's birthday to raise funds and stir up Obama's base of supporters ahead of the 2010 midterms.
This isn't unprecedented. In 1996, then-President Clinton marked his 50th birthday at a celebrity-packed DNC fundraiser at Radio City Music Hall. The Republican National Committee, meanwhile, raised cash off of George W. Bush's birthday each year of the 43rd president's tenure by sending out an email pitch from Laura Bush, asking supporters to sign a birthday card and contribute a little cash in her husband's honor.
Last week, the DNC emailed a similar pitch from Michelle Obama, who asked supporters to sign a birthday card. After the well-wishing supporter signs, he or she gets a message that reads, "Now can you make a donation to help us take on the year ahead?" According to the DNC, more than a million people have signed the card so far — though it's unclear how many of those people are new supporters or how many ended up contributing to the party.
But that's not all the Democrats are doing. As the Washington Post's Michael Shear and Philip Rucker first reported, the party has organized more than 500 birthday party events around the country, including a presidential potluck in Phoenix and a "49 Candles for America" party in Des Moines. There, just like in 2008, supporters will be urged to take to the phone bank to mobilize new volunteers in hopes of boosting Democratic efforts in 2010.
But this is about more than 2010. Democratic officials have made no secret they are already thinking about Obama's re-election in 2012. Part of this week's push is not only to awaken what has been generally regarded as the sleeping giant of Obama supporters for 2010 but also to see how that bloc is feeling about Obama today. With his approval rating nearly 15 points lower than it was back in November 2008, Obama will need his base fired up not only for 2010 but also in advance of the kickoff for his re-election campaign next year.