President Barack Obama on Wednesday evening struck a campaign chord and positioned himself as the anti-Romney, telling supporters the upcoming election presents voters with a clear choice on where they want to take the country.
Speaking to a hometown crowd at the University of Illinois at Chicago's UIC Forum a day after Mitt Romney sailed to victory in the New Hampshire Republican primary, Obama sought to ready his backers for the fight ahead leading to Election Day in November.
"You can't back down -- not now. We won't give up -- not now," Obama said. "We've got to send a message we are going to keep pushing and fighting for the change that we believe in.''
Obama never specifically mentioned New Hampshire or Romney, who's established himself as the front-runner to take on the president in the fall. But he told supporters at the first of three evening fundraisers that the election would present a clear choice.
"The very core of what this country stands for is on the line," he said, admonishing Republicans for putting their party ahead of the country and putting the next election ahead of the next generation.
The president touted the auto industry bailout, the passage of health insurance reform, the ending of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the ending of the war in Iraq and the killing of Osama bin Laden as successes his administration has had in three years.
But most people, he said, are still struggling in a sputtering economy. And he vowed to keep working to make things better.
"It's going to take more than a few years to meet the challenges that have been decades in the making," he said, later adding: "If you stick with me, we're going to finish what we started in 2008."
Obama arrived at the UIC Forum just after 5:30 p.m. for a fundraising event and concert starring Hill Harper and Janelle Monae. An anticipated crowd of more than 500 paid between $44 and $1,000 to attend.
Before heading to UIC, however, the president made a surprise stop at his 2012 campaign headquarters.
Afterward, the president headed north to a Lincoln Park fundraiser for about 60 people at the home of media mogul Fred Eychaner. That event cost attendees $35,000 per couple.
There, he reiterated what he'd said earlier at UIC: he's an imperfect president.
"I think that the reason that we were successful was not because I was a flawless candidate or I ran a flawless campaign," but rather a shared vision. "What animates me continues to be the same vision that you guys helped me realize way back when."
Obama ended the night at a private gathering at the Hyde Park home of Stuart Taylor, the managing partner of The Taylor Group, a private equity firm.
The president addressed about 140 supporters -- they paid between $7,000 and $20,000 for the reception -- while standing on a staircase.
He said he felt like he was among neighbors and pointed out old friends, including the couple he said was responsible for him meeting his wife.
The fundraiser ended shortly before 10 p.m., with the president making a brief stop at his Hyde Park home just a few blocks away before making the trip back to O'Hare for a flight back to Washington.
Of course, not everyone was happy Obama was in Chicago. Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady criticized the trip "in a place where his policies fostered the nation’s worst credit rating."
"Another day, another set of Chicago fundraisers for President Obama, who continually seems more concerned with saving his own job than doing anything constructive to get Illinois back to work,” Brady said in a statement.
The visit was Obama's 10th since he was elected president. He celebrated his 50th birthday at the Aragon Ballroom in August and began his fundraising campaign in Chicago in April. First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have visited separately for fundraisers as well.
Obama's campaign has hauled in more than $150 million through September, but Democrats say they will need to compete with Republican-leaning outside groups that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to back specific candidates.
Obama's re-election campaign and the Democratic National Committee set a combined fundraising goal of $60 million for the final three months of 2011. The campaign is expected to release its fundraising report before the end of the month.
Romney's campaign said Wednesday it had collected $56 million for the primary through Dec. 31 and has more than $19 million in the bank, far outpacing his opponents' fundraising.
Noticeably absent from the day's events was the president's former Chief of Staff and current Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel, who was in Los Angeles for a "longstanding commitment with his brother," a spokesman said.