- Associated Press - Thursday, October 2, 2014

CHICAGO (AP) - Gov. Pat Quinn got some help from his friend President Barack Obama on Thursday as the Democratic governor fights to hold on to his office for a second term.

Obama attended a high-priced fundraiser in Chicago for Quinn, who’s in the midst of a tough and costly re-election bid against wealthy Republican businessman Bruce Rauner.

The president then gave a speech about the economy at Northwestern University in Evanston, where he reinforced many of the policies Quinn and other Democrats tout on the campaign trail - from raising the minimum wage to his signature health care overhaul.

Obama acknowledged Quinn and other elected officials only briefly during a roughly 45-minute address his aides said was intended to be more presidential than political - though it included several jabs at Republicans. And while the president told the crowd of about 1,000 people he wasn’t going to tell them who to vote for in November, he said: “I suppose it is kind of implied.”

Quinn said he was “thrilled” to have Obama back in Illinois and that the president’s vision for the economy is “exactly what we’ve been working to do here in Illinois.” He also noted Illinois’ unemployment is the lowest it’s been in more than six years.

“With the President’s help - and the support of the people of Illinois - we will continue getting the job done for working families and keep Illinois moving in the right direction,” Quinn said in an emailed statement.

Republicans said Obama couldn’t have picked a worse state in which to discuss the economy, noting that Illinois’ recovery has been slower than in surrounding states and the unemployment rate remains among the nation’s highest.

“The only way to improve Illinois’ jobs climate immediately is to fire Gov. Quinn and elect Bruce Rauner,” Illinois GOP Chairman Tim Schneider said. Rauner did not comment on the president’s visit, other than sending a fundraising appeal to his supporters that said it’s a sign Democrats know Quinn “is in serious trouble.”

Democrats have made raising the minimum wage a centerpiece of the 2014 campaigns, saying the best way to grow the economy is to put more money in the pockets of working people. On Thursday, Obama noted Illinois voters will get to weigh in on whether to increase the state’s rate from $8.25 to $10 per hour, telling the audience “let’s do this.”

The wage is just one of the areas in which Quinn and Rauner’s strategies for improving Illinois’ economy differ.

Quinn wants to increase Illinois’ wage from $8.25 to $10 per hour, and has said he’ll push to get it done by the end of the year - though he has so far not had enough support in the Legislature to do so.

Rauner’s position has changed during the campaign. While he has previously advocated eliminating or cutting the minimum wage, he now says he supports increasing it to $10 per hour if it’s accompanied by pro-business changes. These would include lowering the cost of worker’s compensation insurance, so that businesses can afford the higher payroll and the increase doesn’t lead to job losses.

Rauner, who’s making his first bid for public office, also argues that the best way to create jobs and speed up Illinois’ recovery is by cutting taxes. He wants to roll back the income tax increase Democrats approved in 2011, which is set to decrease on Jan. 1.

Quinn wants to make the increase permanent and says allowing it to drop - from 5 percent to 3.75 percent for individuals - will lead to huge funding cuts to schools and other programs. Quinn also supports a measure to impose an additional tax on income over $1 million. Rauner says such a tax hike would be anti-business and would prompt more companies to leave the state.

The Quinn campaign said about 25 people attended Thursday’s $50,000-per-person fundraiser. It was held at the home of Meredith Bluhm Wolf, sister of philanthropist Leslie Bluhm.

First lady Michelle Obama is scheduled to be in Chicago on Tuesday to assist Quinn’s campaign. She also recorded a radio ad for Quinn that began airing earlier this week, in which she says “Barack and I are casting our votes for our friend, Pat Quinn.”

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Follow Sara Burnett at http://twitter.com/sara_burnett

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