CHICAGO -- The red-brick Georgian Revival home was gleaming: An American flag extended from the porch, the evergreen trees surrounding the yard were pruned and the red impatiens and begonias were blooming. Guests mingled at tables covered with stylish lime-colored tablecloths and listened to light jazz before their host said a few words.
Just a nice summertime garden party on a Sunday – along with beefy Secret Service agents, the buzz of a motorcade waiting outside, and a black pole extending high over the corner of the property, dotted with surveillance equipment and cameras.
"Welcome to my house!" said President Barack Obama, greeting donors at his South Side home. "I have to say, the lawn hasn't looked this good in a while. But I figured, but at least Michelle figured, that if everyone was coming over we ought to neaten up a little bit."
Obama opened up his home in Chicago's Kenwood neighborhood for a marquee fundraiser, welcoming about 75 of his top donors who wished the president a belated happy birthday – No. 51 – and gave big bucks to his re-election campaign. It was part of a full day of hometown fundraising for Obama, who was expected to haul in $3.5 million to $4 million to fuel his campaign against Republican Mitt Romney.
The president was among friends, noting that many in the audience knew him "when I barely owned a suit," a reference to his time as a community organizer during the mid-1980s. "This place is where I learned about the importance of bringing communities together to solve problems."
Michelle Obama wasn't there, instead raising money for her husband's campaign at events in Los Angeles. But the president reminded guests that she was born and raised in Chicago, where they met and started a family. "I think it's fair to say I'm an adopted son of the South Side."
Obama's weekend fundraising trip had all the trappings of a local homecoming, right down to the crowds gathered by the nearby Pancake House to cheer on his motorcade on Saturday night and a banner hanging on a fence a few blocks from his home that said, "Happy Birthday President Obama."
The weekend offered a rare two-night stay for Obama at his house. The president stayed at a hotel during NATO meetings in June because of security concerns. He arrived on Saturday afternoon and met advisers at his Chicago campaign headquarters, then grabbed dinner with friends at a local eatery called Piccolo Sogno Due, which means "Little Dream 2" in Italian.
During his Chicago sojourn, his motorcade swept past Grant Park several times, letting him look at the park where throngs of supporters cheered his victory on election night in 2008. He could look out the window and see Soldier Field, home of his beloved Chicago Bears, and watch the final day of the Olympic Games on television.
Making his own Olympic analogy, Obama told his donors – most of whom paid $40,000 per person to attend – that the 2012 election wasn't going to turn out like a Usain Bolt race, referring to the dominant Jamaican sprinter who was so fast he could jog to the finish line. "We're going to have to run through the tape. But we're really well positioned to not just win but to keep America moving forward."
By dusk, with temperatures in the mid-70s, the president was ready for an evening stroll.
His next fundraiser was at the home of Marty Nesbitt, one of his closest friends, followed by another at the home of Barbara Bowman, the mother of Valerie Jarrett, a longtime adviser and friend.
Nesbitt's home was so close that the president decided to walk, slinging his black blazer over his left shoulder while he was trailed by Secret Service agents and his entourage. He shook hands with cheering neighbors and gave a local TV crew a presidential shout-out for his favorite baseball team, the Chicago White Sox.
"Nice to be home?" shouted a member of the press corps.
"It's always nice to be home," Obama said. "A little cooler than Washington, isn't it?"