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Obama calls for end to 'partisan games' at 50th birthday bash

By Alexander Mooney, CNN White House Producer
  • President renews focus on 2012 election
  • Obama has dinner with 100 people, most of whom paid $35,800
  • President admits change has been slow to come
  • Jennifer Hudson sings at event for 2,400

Chicago (CNN) -- President Barack Obama was back in full-throttle campaign mode Wednesday night, attending two high-profile fund-raisers in Chicago during which he took aim at congressional Republicans after weeks of drawn-out debt negotiations.

"I hope we can avoid another self-inflicted wound like we saw over the last couple weeks," he told an enthusiastic crowd of 2,400 in Chicago's historic Aragon ballroom, where the ventilation system struggled to keep the room temperature below 90 degrees.

"We don't have time to play these partisan games," continued the president, huddled over the podium with his voice breaking at times. "We have too much work to do. Over the next several weeks I hope Congress is focused on what the American people are focused on: Making sure the economy is growing.

"It doesn't matter what kind of week I have in Washington, because I know you have my back," Obama added, scoring his loudest applause of the night.

Obama was introduced by Rahm Emanuel, his former chief of staff and the current Chicago mayor, while singer Jennifer Hudson led the crowd in singing "Happy Birthday" as he came on stage. Also in attendance were Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Jan Schakowski.

Before addressing the ballroom, the president delivered a video message to more than 1,100 house parties around the country while top surrogates fanned out to several cities to hold smaller fund-raising events -- all part of the president's renewed focus on 2012 after a weeks-long battle with congressional Republicans that resulted in a debt deal many of his supporters oppose and an approval rating that has stubbornly sagged to below 45%.

Addressing the ballroom crowd, Obama acknowledged the change he promised three years ago has been slow to come.

"When I said change we can believe in, I didn't say change we can believe in tomorrow," he said to laughter. "Not change we can believe in next week ... we knew these challenges weren't made overnight and they aren't going to be fixed overnight."

Also among the president's fund-raising events Wednesday was a high-dollar dinner with 100 supporters -- most of whom paid $35,800 each to attend, the max contribution allowed to both the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee. The first $5,000 of each ticket sold will go to Obama's re-election effort while the remainder is allotted to the DNC's coffers.

The Obama campaign isn't saying how much they expect the events to net, but it's safe to estimate the total will soar well into the high seven figures.

The Republican National Committee, meanwhile, was quick to pounce on Obama ahead of his fund-raising trip with a tongue-in-cheek jab suggesting the president is trying to avoid the latest round of indicators of a still-struggling economy.

"With 9.2% unemployment, he could work on creating jobs, but I suppose the White House is thinking he should stick to the part of his job he really likes," RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said.

But the president was all smiles on the eve of his 50th birthday, telling the crowd, "We have made some incredible strides together. Yes, we have. But the thing we all have to remember that as much good as we have done, precisely because we inherited so many challenges, we aren't even there yet."

Despite Wednesday night's expected cash windfall, the president has some work to do to keep pace with his fund-raising clip last quarter, which resulted in an eye-popping $86 million for his campaign and the DNC. While the third fund-raising quarter began more than a month ago, Obama and his surrogates were forced to postpone or cancel several events while the debt ceiling negotiations dragged on in Washington.

Adding to that challenge is the fact that August is traditionally a difficult month to raise funds, with most donors' minds on vacation, the beach and summer's waning weeks. The result is a campaign that has to go into overdrive to report a big cash haul by September 30.