CHICAGO (AFP) – US President Barack Obama accused his Republican foes of wanting to turn the United States into a "Third World" country Thursday as he rallied support for his reelection campaign.
The attack came a day after Obama savaged Republican budget plans and unveiled his $4 trillion deficit reduction drive that aims to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans in order to preserve key social services.
The debate over fiscal policy will prove critical to the 2012 campaign, and Obama sought to frame it as a "stark choice" between investing in the future or watching the country fall apart.
"Under their vision, we can't invest in roads and bridges and broadband and high-speed rail," Obama told a select group of the Democratic faithful at the second of three fundraising events in his hometown of Chicago.
"I mean, we would be a nation of potholes, and our airports would be worse than places that we thought -- that we used to call the Third World, but who are now investing in infrastructure."
Republican plans to shrink the reach of government is "not a vision that's impelled by the numbers" but a "choice" to give a trillion dollars in tax breaks to the rich rather than ask those who have been "blessed" to "give a little more," he said.
Obama said his vision was one of an ambitious, compassionate and caring America "where we're living within our means but we're still investing in our future."
"If we apply some practical common sense to this, we can solve our fiscal challenges and still have the America that we believe in," Obama told supporters at Chicago's N9NE restaurant.
"That's what this budget debate is going to be about. And that's what the 2012 campaign is going to be about."
The events in Chicago were Obama's first fundraisers since he officially launched his bid for a second term on April 4 and were expected to raise about two million dollars (1.4 million euros).
Analysts predict Obama -- who raised a record $750 million ahead of the 2008 election -- will build a billion-dollar war chest this time around.
But money won't be enough to win, senior advisor and 2008 campaign manager David Plouffe told a crowd of 2,300 supporters gathered in a ballroom at Navy Pier ahead of Obama's speech.
"If only the people who normally vote in presidential elections vote in this election it will be too close," Plouffe said as he urged supporters to get more people involved in the campaign.
"You've got to get these people to get involved and to vote so we can make sure that we succeed in this election."
Obama established his 2012 campaign headquarters in Chicago, the first time a presidential reelection campaign was not based in Washington.
He said the campaign wanted to be "rooted in your hopes and rooted in your dreams" instead of influenced by Washington pundits and powerbrokers.
Obama reminded the cheering crowd of the sense of hope and possibility they felt when they celebrated his election as the first African-American US president in Chicago's Grant Park.
"And yet, even as we celebrated -- you remember what I said back then? I said our work wasn't ending, our work was just beginning," Obama said.
"We've still got business to do. We are not finished.
"We've got to reclaim the American dream for all Americans. That's the change we still believe in," the US leader added.
"We took office in the middle of the worst recession in our lifetimes," Obama reminded supporters. The recession, he said, was "so bad that many families are still grappling with the aftershocks, even though the economy is growing again."
Barring a dramatic turn, no major adversary from within his party is likely to challenge Obama, who turns 50 in August.
As for who might run against him from the Republican Party's ranks, uncertainty reigns.
Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney have taken the first official steps toward candidacy, while conservative former House speaker Newt Gingrich and even real estate mogul Donald Trump have hinted at mounting bids for the Republican nomination.
In less than a month, the 64-year-old Trump has jumped from 10 to 19 percent support among Republican voters, tying with former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, according to a CNN poll released this week.
Republican officials worry that the crowded field of possible White House hopefuls could end up helping Obama, who could be vulnerable as the US economy limps out of its worst downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.