CHICAGO President Barack Obama turned his 50th birthday into a 2012 campaign fundraising bonanza on Wednesday, buoyed by a hometown crowd after what he called a frustrating period locked in a debt battle with Republicans.
Obama made clear in remarks to a big audience at a music auditorium and in a videoconference with supporters scattered across the country that he will now focus on trying to spur job growth now that the debt debate is behind him.
The debt battle ended on Tuesday when Obama signed compromise legislation reached after painstaking negotiations that barely averted a government default.
"This last week was a frustrating week," said Obama, who turns 50 on Thursday.
He used the conflict over debts and deficits to tell his supporters that Democrats and Republicans have deep divisions over economic policy and that the November 2012 presidential election, "in some ways may be more important than the last one."
In the just-ended debt dispute, Obama agreed to $2.1 trillion in spending cuts over a decade but Republicans refused his demand that tax increases be included in the package.
Returning to the campaign trail after a month spent locked in debt talks, Obama used his appearances to defend his economic record, saying he inherited severe challenges from Republican President George W. Bush, including an economy that was worse than he and his aides had realized.
The United States is suffering under a 9.2 percent jobless rate and economic growth has slowed to a crawl. The debt crisis that brought the country to the brink of default has also contributed to a sagging stock market.
Obama said he knew the challenges he faces were not going to be solved overnight.
"We know we've still got a lot of work to do on the economy," he said. "I hope we can avoid another self-inflicted wound like we've seen over the last couple of weeks, because we don't have time to play these partisan games."
The warm welcome he received from a crowd of 2,400 who heard performances from musicians Jennifer Hudson and Herbie Hancock was a balm for the president's wounds. His job approval rating is in the low 40s, near the lowest of his presidency.
"It doesn't matter how tough it gets in Washington because I know you've got my back," he said, his voice rising to a shout as the crowd roared. "I know we will bring about the change that all of us believe in."
Obama addressed supporters via videoconference in cities across the country which held birthday parties in his honor
"We're in for a long battle," he said.
(Editing by Christopher Wilson)