- Associated Press - Thursday, August 4, 2011

WASHINGTON — President Obama was counting on at least one birthday greeting when he turned 50 on Thursday.

“By the time I wake up, I’ll have an email from AARP asking me to call President Obama and tell him to protect Medicare,” Obama joked during a fundraiser in Chicago on the eve of his birthday.

Obama’s big birthday comes just days after he reached a deal with Republicans to raise the nation’s debt ceiling and avert a calamitous government default. While the mood around the White House hasn’t exactly been festive since the deal was reached — Obama didn’t get much of what he wanted — there will be plenty of celebration there Thursday for the president’s 50th.

Senior members of Obama’s staff will toast the president in the Blue Room of the White House Thursday afternoon. At night, he’ll celebrate with family and friends, including some coming in from his hometown of Chicago, then cap the festivities with a weekend trip to Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland.

An administration official said the Obamas will pay for the president’s birthday party at the White House.

First lady Michelle Obama used her husband’s birthday as an opportunity to both poke fun at his graying hair and rally support for his re-election. In an email to supporters Thursday — subject line “Gray Hairs” — Mrs. Obama asked supporters to sign an electronic birthday card for the president. When they do so, the campaign gets valuable contact information for its databases.

“I see Barack make choices he knows will affect every American family. That’s no small task for anyone — and more proof that he’s earning every last one of those gray hairs,” Mrs. Obama wrote.

The president also used his re-election campaign as an opportunity to start his birthday celebrations early. He headlined birthday-themed fundraisers in Chicago Wednesday night and spoke via video conference to supporters holding their own presidential birthday events around the country.

A group from North Carolina sang “Happy Birthday,” while another in Ohio held up signs wishing the president a happy 50th.

With the cloud of uncertainty that surrounded the debt debate now lifted, Obama had a wide smile on his face for much of the night. He got another birthday serenade from musicians Jennifer Hudson, Herbie Hancock and the band OK Go, along with the crowd of about 2,400 gathered at Chicago’s historic Aragon Ballroom.

At a small dinner for high-dollar donors later in the night, Obama said there would be one very important present waiting for him in back in Washington on Thursday. His oldest daughter, Malia, was coming home from camp to celebrate his father’s birthday.

Obama was born Aug. 4, 1961, near the end of the baby boom years of 1946-64. He’s the third U.S. president who belongs to the baby boom generation, a population of more than 76 million. Bill Clinton was the first, followed by George W. Bush.

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