(Changes dateline to CHICAGO, recasts with fundraiser remarks)
By Jeff Mason
CHICAGO, April 2 On a politically focused trip
aimed at revving up his base and raising cash, President Barack
Obama on Wednesday urged supporters to help Democrats keep
control of the U.S. Senate and declared this year to be his last
Buoyed by good news over his signature healthcare program,
Obama touted proposals to raise the minimum wage and spur job
creation that have little chance of passage in Congress during a
rally with students in Michigan.
Later at a fundraiser in Chicago he underscored Democratic
worries about their political vulnerabilities in the Senate and
House of Representatives in November congressional elections.
"Even though I promised Michelle that 2012 was going to be
my last campaign, actually this one's my last campaign," Obama,
referring to his wife, told a fundraiser at the private home of
longtime donors in his hometown of Chicago.
"We need to hold on to the Senate. We need to pick up seats
in the House," he said. Obama was re-elected in 2012.
Obama's tone at the fundraiser was more subdued than the
earlier rally-like event in Michigan, which occurred before a
shooting at the Fort Hood Army base in Texas. In between
fundraisers in Chicago, Obama told reporters he was
"heartbroken" about the shooting and pledged to get to the
bottom of what happened.
Before that, however, Obama spent the day in campaign mode.
In Ann Arbor, with his shirt sleeves rolled up and his suit
jacket off, Obama noted 7.1 million people had signed up for
coverage under Obamacare, his signature healthcare law, which
has dogged him for months because of a disastrous rollout and a
Then he pressed his case for raising the national minimum
wage to $10.10, a move Republicans oppose. Obama said the move
would lift millions of people out of poverty.
"Republicans in Congress don't want to vote to raise it at
all. In fact some want to scrap the minimum wage," he told the
crowd of mostly young people, who proceeded to boo.
"No, no, don't boo. Organize," he told them. "They may not
hear the boos, but they can read a petition and they can see
Obama needs the votes in November to help thwart
Republicans, who see an opportunity to build on their majority
in the House and take control of the Senate.
A Republican-controlled Congress would make it far more
difficult for Obama to pass items from his agenda during his
last two years in office.
One hope of the Democrats is Representative Gary Peters, who
is running for a Senate seat in Michigan.
Although many Democrats have shied away from campaigning
with Obama because of the unpopularity of the healthcare law,
Peters joined the president on Wednesday. Obama bought him a
sandwich at the popular local deli, Zingerman's.
"I'm happy to be with the president. I work with the
president on issues that are important to middle-class families
here in Michigan and families who aspire to be in the middle
class," Peters told reporters. "I'm pleased to be with him and
really pleased that he's focused on Michigan."
With a large blue banner declaring "Opportunity for all" and
a big American flag, the gym had the feel of the campaign venues
Obama frequented as a candidate in 2008 and 2012.
His words had a similar ring as well. The president hammered
Republicans for opposing his ideas and made clear that, despite
its problems, he believes Obamacare is a winner for his party
and a problem for the opposition.
"They do have one original idea, which is to repeal
Obamacare," Obama said of Republicans. "Because they haven't
tried that 50 times."
And he was sharply critical of a Republican proposal offered
on Tuesday by Representative Paul Ryan, chairman of the House
Budget Committee, that would reduce government spending by $5
trillion over a decade.
Obama said the type of cuts required of the Ryan budget
would be devastating to middle-class voters.
"If they were trying to sell this sandwich at Zingerman's,
they'd have to call it the Stinkburger, or the Meanwich," he
(Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Mark Felsenthal in
Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)