DUELING FUND-RAISERS | Dem candidates hold Chicago events on same night -- so who threw the better bash? Barack Obama says he has no problem with Hillary Rodham Clinton coming to Chicago to raise campaign cash -- even if her formal dinner Monday night was expected to raise seven times as much as his cocktail party earlier in the evening.
But the South Side Democrat wasn't going to let anyone suggest the senator and former first lady was more qualified to hit the ground running as president than he is.
"The only person who would probably be prepared to be our president on Day 1 would be Bill Clinton -- not Hillary Clinton," Obama said when asked about unnamed Clinton backers questioning Obama's experience.
"I think that we're all very qualified for the job," the freshman senator said. "The question is who can inspire the nation to get us past the politics that have bogged us down in the past. That was true, by the way, in the '90s as well as more recently."
It was an obvious dig at the political divisions of the Clinton years.
Clinton's campaign officials declined to respond.
The two Democratic presidential front-runners held competing fund-raisers about six blocks apart.
The Chicagoan-turned-New York senator's event was at the historic Palmer House Hilton, with a son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Yusef, and more than 300 others helping her raise an expected $750,000. Even Mr. Cub Ernie Banks helped out, although he didn't attend the dinner.
For between $1,000 and $2,300 a pop, her donors dined on chicken with mushrooms, a garlic roasted risotto, tomato basil soup with blue cheese, triple chocolate mousse cake with pistachio sauce and fresh berries.
But if Clinton was trying to out-class or out-Chicago her rival on his own turf, Obama wasn't biting -- even though his event at Fulton's on the River was expected to raise only $100,000.
For a suggested $2,300 donation, Obama's 50 to 75 guests got hors d'oeuvres, red and white wine, Miller Lite, Miller Genuine Draft and Heineken. The hosts were Ariel Capital Management chief John W. Rogers Jr. and James S. Crown, head of Henry Crown & Co.
Obama slip: 'She was president'
Obama downplayed the disparity between the events, saying he held a funder in New York just last week.
"If you tally what we've done in New York and what they've done in Chicago, I think we come out pretty well," he said.
All presidential hopefuls are scrambling to raise cash before Saturday, the deadline for money to be reported on reports due in July. A strong showing intimidates rivals and helps bring in more cash.
Ironically, Obama's tongue slipped when he tried to lower expectations.
"I'm sure the Clintons can raise much more money than us," Obama told reporters. "She was president -- or he was president -- for eight years. She was the first lady. They've got a lot of chits out there. We're just trying to make sure that we can raise the paltry sums that allow us to compete."