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Obama comes home to raise money, push for gay marriage

President Obamgreets supporters fund raising receptifor Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chicago HiltHotel 720 S. Michigan Avenue Wednesday May 29 2013.

President Obama greets supporters at a fund raising reception for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee at the Chicago Hilton Hotel at 720 S. Michigan Avenue Wednesday May 29, 2013. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 2, 2013 7:08AM

President Barack Obama came home to Chicago on Wednesday to raise money for House Democrats — and he used the occasion to give a key boost to a state bill that would legalize gay marriage.

“Here in Illinois, we’ve got a vote on same-sex marriage that’s going to be coming up in the Legislature,” Obama told donors at his second fund-raiser of the night. “ I just want to say for the record it’s something that I deeply support.”

During his visit, Obama also spoke of gun violence, climate change and other pressing national issues. But he vowed to keep his speech short in respect to other pressing concerns.

“My remarks are going to be relatively brief because of game seven for the Blackhawks,” Obama said at his first fund-raiser.

And he spoke for 15 minutes at the Chicago Hilton and Towers, 720 S. Michigan, before heading to a second fund-raiser at the Streeterville home of Paul and Bettylu Saltzman, early supporters who saw presidential potential in Obama.

At about 5 p.m., 150 guests gathered in a Hilton ballroom. Ticket prices for the event ranged from $1,000 to $2,500 — a deal compared to the 7 p.m. Saltzman dinner which runs from $10,000 per person to $32,400 per couple. About 70 guests were expected at Saltzman’s home. Many of the names on each guest list overlapped.

It was at the Saltzman home that the president reiterated his support for same-sex marriage, using his change in position to boost support for Illinois legislation now sitting in the state House.

“I wrestled with this for a long time, and I’m absolutely convinced it’s the right thing to do, and we have to make sure that wherever we go that the essence of America is that everyone is treated equally under the law, without exception,” he said.

As the nation’s first African American president, Obama is considered a key ally for backers of the bill. Black state legislators have emerged as a crucial voting bloc here, lobbied by groups on both sides.

The Sun-Times first reported that the president was urging support for the Illinois measure in December. But Wednesday’s remarks marked his first personal appeal on his home turf.

Both fund-raisers Wednesday were held to raise money for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel greeted Obama on the tarmac when Air Force One touched down at O’Hare at 4:53 p.m. Obama then took a 16-minute chopper ride aboard Marine One to Soldier Field where a motorcade took over the last leg of the trip. Total travel time from O’Hare to Grant Park: 40 minutes.

At the Hilton event, Obama was joined by an Illinois contingent including freshmen Rep. Robin Kelly, Rep. Bill Foster, Rep. Bobby Rush, Sen. Dick Durbin, Rep. Jan Schakowsky as well as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, House Whip Steny Hoyer and Rep. Steve Israel, chairman of the DCCC.

On energy, Obama noted improvements in fuel economy and clean energy, but said a further commitment to fighting climate change “so that we can be leaders not just for our own kids, but kids around the world.”

Obama told the crowd he’s willing to work with Republicans, but could get more done with Democrats in charge in the House.

“If day in, day out, what we confront is obstructionism for the sake of obstructionism, and what appears to be an interest only in scoring points or placating the base as opposed to trying to advance the interests of the American people, then we’ve got to figure out a way to work around that,” he said. “And one of the best ways to work around it is to have a Democratic House of Representatives.”

The House is lopsided towards Republicans: 234-201. To wrest back control of the House, Democrats need a net gain of 17 seats.

In front of about 60 people who munched on fruit kabobs and an arugula salad at the Saltzman residence, Obama touched on Chicago’s gun violence.

“There are still kids just a few miles from here who are threatened by gun violence, who aren’t in a school that is giving them what they need to compete in this 21st century, and whose prospects are dim, if we’re honest, not because they don’t have the innate capacity, but because we as a society have decided that’s not our priority.”

Compared to other fund-raisers featuring Obama, the turnout in Chicago for the DCCC reception was relatively low. For example, when Obama was in Chicago last August for fund-raisers to benefit his re-election campaign — an event in his yard and two others nearby — between 300 and 400 attended.

The Wednesday events were aimed at major donors. But in April, the DCCC had a robust on-line fund-raising drive, which raised $1.4 million with an average donation of $22.

Pelosi, during an earlier sit-down Wednesday with the Sun-Times Editorial Board, said: “Everything that’s raised in Illinois stays in Illinois.”

Officials from the DCCC said they would not be releasing estimates of how much money is raised tonight at the two fund-raisers.

Obama also touched on another deep partisan divide, the Crosstown Classic between the White Sox and the Cubs.

“I expect the White Sox to win,” said Obama, who was quick not alienate North Side Democrats. “I love the Cubs, too. They’re great. I’m not a Cubs hater. I’m just saying.”

Contributing: Lynn Sweet

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