BALTIMORE -- President Barack Obama pleaded with supporters at a fundraiser here Tuesday afternoon to resurrect the spirit of his 2008 campaign.
"If people ask you, 'What's this campaign?' you tell them, it's still about hope. You tell them it's still about change," Obama told a few hundred supporters in a downtown hotel ballroom. "You tell them it's still about ordinary people who believe that in the face of great odds we can make a difference in the life of this country. I still believe that."
One of the major questions facing Obama's reelection effort is whether the massive voter turnout machine being constructed by his campaign can deliver grassroots energy that comes close to what drove him to victory in 2008.
The president made his comments on the heels of some of his most difficult days as a candidate for reelection, following a dismal jobs May jobs report, the Democrats' failure to prevail in the Gov. Scott Walker recall election in Wisconsin, a fresh spate of off-script comments by former President Bill Clinton, and Obama's "the private sector is doing fine" remark on Friday.
This Obama fundraiser was the third of six planned for Tuesday. The president traveled to Philadelphia for three more after leaving Baltimore.
The president spent much of his 30-minute speech characterizing the position of Republican candidate Mitt Romney as favoring huge tax breaks for the wealthy at the expense of the middle class and those less well-off. And he fended off criticism about his handling of the government's massive annual budget deficit and the mounting national debt by blaming former President George W. Bush and the Republicans for the situation he inherited upon taking office.
He illustrated his point with an anecdote about a steak dinner and a martini.
"So we inherited a trillion dollar deficit. We signed $2 trillion in spending cuts into law. I laid out a detailed plan for a total of $4 trillion in deficit reduction.
"My opponent won't admit it but even when you account for the steps we took to prevent a depression and to jump-start the recovery -- so even when you include the Recovery Act, all the stuff we did to help states like Maryland, to make sure they didn't have to lay folks off and put people back to work -- even if you take that into account, spending under my administration has grown more slowly than under any president in 60 years.
"This notion that somehow we caused the deficit is just wrong. It's just not true. And anybody who looks at the math will tell you it's not true. And, and, if, if they start trying to give you a bunch of facts and figures suggesting that it's true, what they're not telling you is they baked all this stuff into the cake, with those tax cuts and a prescription drug plan they didn't pay for, and the wars.
"So all this stuff's baked in, with all the interest payments for it. It's like somebody goes to a restaurant, orders a big steak dinner, martini, all that stuff, and then just as you're sitting down, they leave and accuse you of running up the tab. I am not making this up. Press, go back, check. Look at the numbers."
The audience greeted the steak story with applause and laughter, and Obama continued.
"So we've made tough cuts and we've proposed additional work that we can do: streamline government, cutting more waste, reforming our tax code so it's simpler and fair," said Obama, adding a mention of his proposed tax increases for the wealthy by noting that he has asked "the wealthiest Americans, folks like me, to pay a little bit more."
"Now, in contrast, my opponent -- he's proposed a new $5 trillion tax cut on top of the Bush tax cuts. This includes a 25 percent tax cut for nearly every millionaire in the country. Now he won't detail how he's going to pay for this," Obama said.
And at that point, a woman in the crowd yelled out, "We pay for it."
Obama did not stop to acknowledge her but continued, "The bill for this tax cut will either be passed on to our children or it's going to be paid for by you, a whole lot of ordinary Americans, and I refuse to let that happen again."
Near the end of Obama's remarks, the crowd broke into chants of "Four more years."
Below, scroll through a list of the co-chairs helping to organize the Obama campaign: