CHICAGO -- Alone on his 49th birthday, President Barack Obama fled the empty White House mansion for a more intimate celebration with longtime friends in his Chicago hometown, including TV host Oprah Winfrey.
Before leaving Washington on Wednesday afternoon with the family dog, Bo, Obama got a couple of presents he didn't have to unwrap and which the White House described as being the highlight of his day: telephone calls from the women in his life.
Mrs. Obama and Sasha phoned in their happy birthday wishes, followed by a lunchtime call from Malia.
Obama's Secret Service detail got him a present, though Gibbs would describe it only as "heartfelt."
As the presidential motorcade pulled closer to his house in Hyde Park, neighbors lined the street to welcome him home with waves and signs, including "Happy 49th Birthday President Barack Obama" and "Happy Birthday Mr. President."
Obama continued his birthday celebration over a leisurely dinner with friends, spending more than three hours at the graham elliot restaurant in Chicago's River North neighborhood. His dinner companions included Winfrey and her friend, Gayle King, plus longtime Obama friends Eric Whitaker, Marty Nesbitt and Valerie Jarrett, also a senior White House adviser and fellow Chicagoan.
Obama's birthday -- though a year short of the milestone 5-0 -- also was viewed in this election year as a prime fundraising opportunity for Democrats, who fear losing their hold on both houses of Congress come November. E-mails, house parties and other forms of outreach sought to capitalize on Obama's big day.
Mrs. Obama even joined the act, asking supporters to sign an e-mail birthday card being distributed by Organizing for America, Obama's political organization. More than 1.2 million people had signed it as of Wednesday morning.
The Republican Party marked the occasion with a new website offering 11 different e-cards people can send to Obama, including ones mocking the ethics problems of Democratic Reps. Charles Rangel and Maxine Waters, and noting key Democratic election losses in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts.
Obama planned to help out with the money-raising on Thursday by headlining separate events in Chicago for the Democratic Party and Alexi Giannoulias, the Democrat eyeing the Senate seat Obama gave up to become president.
The president spoke earlier Wednesday at an AFL-CIO meeting in Washington and joked about his disappointment at not getting a birthday cake from his "good friends" in the labor movement. A cake apparently had been planned, according to union president Richard Trumka, but the Secret Service nixed the idea, he said.
Obama said he'd have a talk with the agents then joked, "They're probably eating it right now."