CHICAGO — President Barack Obama said Thursday that the 2012 presidential campaign will be about how to solve the country's fiscal challenges without doing harm to "the America we believe in."
Even while claiming he was avoiding partisan potshots, the president sought to reanimate supporters who swept him into the White House in 2008 on promises of change, including liberals disappointed at his compromises with the GOP.
Speaking at his first fundraiser since formally declaring his candidacy for re-election last week, the president accused Republicans of offering slash-and-burn budget proposals that say "we can't afford to be compassionate."
"If we're progressive we've got to care about the deficit just as much as the other side does," Obama told a high-dollar fundraiser in his hometown. "But how we get there is important, and you've got right now one side that I believe is entirely sincere that says we no longer can afford to do big things in this country."
The president, restarting his formidable fundraising machine, spoke a day after laying down the terms of the campaign debate in an economic speech in which he accused Republicans of embracing a "deeply pessimistic" view of America.
"The speech I gave yesterday was not a partisan shot at the other side. It was an attempt to clarify the choice that we have as a country right now," he told donors gathered at Nine restaurant, the first of three fundraisers he was holding Thursday night.
Obama said he agreed with the need to rein in spending and trim crushing deficits, but argued that Republicans would do so while slashing areas like education, energy and transportation that he said must be preserved to ensure American competitiveness.
Republicans pounced on Obama for turning to raising money after delivering what they described as overly partisan broadsides in Wednesday's economic speech even as a critical debate over raising the debt limit loomed. "Campaigner-in-chief kicks of fundraising circuit," read a release from the Republican National Committee.
The president seemed likely to sustain his argument of Democratic investment versus ruinous Republican cuts as he participated in a series fundraisers that will take him to San Francisco and Los Angeles next week, New York the week after, and elsewhere.
In an interview with ABC News on Thursday, Obama laid out his case for re-election.
"In addition to managing big crises, we've still been able to move a vision of the country forward that is going to give greater opportunity for more people than ever before," he said. "And, of course, the job's not done."
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Obama raised $750 million in 2008 and could top $1 billion this time around, though he himself acknowledges a need to re-energize the grassroots supporters and small donors who helped sweep him into the White House. One of Thursday's events, at Chicago's Navy Pier, priced tickets starting at $100 and was aimed at younger supporters. Some 2,000 backers were expected, and Chicago sports stars, including Bulls point guard Derrick Rose, were to attend.
Obama also was expected to speak to about 225 people in all at Nine and another restaurant, MK, with tickets as high as $35,800. All told the events should raise $2 million or more for Obama's campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Obama's fundraising push comes as the Republican field begins to take shape, with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum announcing exploratory committees this week.