(MCT) — CHICAGO — President Barack Obama on Thursday became the first sitting president to vote early in person, traveling to Chicago’s South Side just long enough to cast a ballot in a carefully orchestrated event aimed squarely at voters beyond Illinois’ borders.
After bantering about his gray hair with poll workers at the Martin Luther King Community Center in Bronzeville, Obama talked up the benefits of voting early, a case he has been trying to hammer home in recent days to supporters in a handful of swing states.
“For all of you who have not yet early voted, I just want everybody to see what an incredibly efficient process this was thanks to the outstanding folks who are at this particular polling place,” Obama said. “Obviously, folks in Illinois can take advantage of this. But all across the country we’re seeing a lot of early voting.”
Obama’s campaign has been aggressively pushing supporters to vote early rather than wait until Nov. 6 as he and Republican challenger Mitt Romney both move into “get out the vote” mode in the campaign’s stretch run. For the Democratic president, the idea is to build up a bank of votes that even rising GOP enthusiasm momentum couldn’t overwhelm in states such as Iowa, Ohio, Nevada and Florida.
In all, the president was in Chicago, his hometown, for about 2 ˝ hours.
He landed in Air Force One at O’Hare International Airport at about 3:30 p.m., sharing a laugh with Mayor Rahm Emanuel on the tarmac. After voting, the president stopped at a campaign office in Hyde Park to give volunteers a pep talk, again highlighting the importance of voter turnout.
Obama was back on the plane at O’Hare by 5:59 p.m., headed to Ohio, a state in which the outcome is much less certain than Illinois, where a Chicago Tribune poll this month showed the Democrat well ahead.
Obama’s campaign coupled his trip home with an email fundraising pitch Thursday that highlighted the novelty of his early vote.
“Look, this race is extremely tight. It’s going to come down to which side can more effectively turn out the vote in these final days, and early vote is a huge part of that,” the message from the Obama campaign reads in part.
Early voting began Monday in Illinois and ends Nov. 3.
By the end of Thursday, 16,123 early voting ballots had been cast in Chicago, a 51 percent increase over the first four days of early voting in 2008, Chicago Board of Election Commissioners spokesman James Allen said.
More than 47,000 early votes had been cast in suburban Cook County between Monday and Thursday morning, compared to about 25,000 early voters in the first three days of 2008, according to Courtney Greve, spokeswoman for County Clerk David Orr.
(Kathleen Hennessey of the Tribune Washington Bureau contributed to this report.)