On visit home, Obama looks backward and forward
CHICAGO (AP) — President Barack Obama’s brief trip back to his home town of Chicago offered a sweet taste of nostalgia, but also reminders that his efforts in the first six years of his presidency have set the stage for immense challenges in his final two years.
Everywhere he went, Obama got glimpses of a simpler time when his life was for the most part, normal: The unpaid bills on his desk, the volunteers who pitched in on his first Senate campaign, the day he marched in seven Fourth of July parades.
But at each stop, Obama also confronted the likelihood that the resistance he’s faced so far will only grow steeper after the November elections in which control of Congress will be at stake.
Obama’s overnight trip was intended to showcase the president on the campaign trail in one of the few states where he’s still popular enough to help his party: his home state of Illinois. But even Obama had to acknowledge that in the toughest races that Democrats are fighting this year, his party’s candidates would rather not be seen in public with the president.
“The bottom line is, though, these are all folks who vote with me. They have supported my agenda in Congress,” Obama said in an interview Monday for a radio show hosted by the Rev. Al Sharpton, a civil rights activist.
After all, Democrats have spent the entire year trying to distance themselves from Obama, while Republicans argued a vote for a Democrat this year is a vote for Obama’s record and policies. Now Obama was making the Republicans’ point for them.
Obama insisted his feelings weren’t hurt. He said he understood that some Democrats must distance themselves from his record.
“Do what you need to do to win,” he said. “I will be responsible for making sure that our voters turn out.”
And so he did — in a college gymnasium where he rallied for Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, at a campaign office where volunteers put their phone-a-thon on hold to gobble up doughnuts delivered by the president, and at his local polling place, where Obama voted early and urged voters across the country to do the same.
But for a few brief hours, Obama retreated from the noise of the city, the urgency of the campaign and pressures awaiting him back in Washington to be alone at his home on Chicago’s South Side. Perhaps it was during this stretch on a chilly Monday afternoon that Obama took to looking around the house that he, his wife and two daughters left behind when they headed east six years ago.
Reminiscing on Monday night at a fundraiser just before flying back to Washington, Obama said his home now feels like a time capsule, with little reminders of his life before the White House still in the same position he left them. As Obama explained to a crowd of well-heeled Democratic donors, he and his family left Chicago so quickly after his 2008 election that they left newspapers, junk mail and unpaid bills on the desk.
“We always thought we’d be back every month and we’d kind of get everything in order and filed, and it hasn’t happened,” Obama said. “But it’s useful, actually, to take a look at some of these old articles to remind ourselves of where we were when we took office and to think about the progress we’ve made.”