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Obama making dramatic return to Springfield to address Illinois General Assembly

DES MOINES – A nostalgic President Barack Obama returns to Springfield next month, nine years to the day after he officially launched his White House campaign on the steps of the Old State Capitol, as rivals Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders compete to duplicate his historic Iowa caucus victory on Monday.

I was en route to a Hillary Clinton get-out-the-caucus vote rally here on Friday when the White House announced Obama will deliver an address to the Illinois General Assembly where he once served as a state senator from the South Side of Chicago.

“Now, in the final year of his second term, the President looks forward to addressing the Illinois General Assembly on February 10th about what we can do, together, to build a better politics – one that reflects our better selves,” the White House said in a statement.

On a freezing day on Feb. 10, 2007, then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., delivered a stirring kick-off speech, noting he stood at a place where Abraham Lincoln called on a divided house to come together. Later that day, Obama flew to Iowa.

“I do think that it’s true, in 2008, if Barack Obama had not won the Iowa caucuses, that he probably would not have won the nomination and therefore would not have become President,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest – who was Obama’s Iowa communications director – said at the Friday briefing.

Obama returns to a paralyzed Springfield and a budget impasse that neither GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner nor the Democratic leaders – Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan — can resolve.

“I look forward to welcoming President Obama to the State Capitol and hearing him speak about finding common ground between Republicans and Democrats,” Rauner said in a statement.

Cullerton told me he invited Obama back to Springfield when Obama delivered a speech on Nov. 25, 2014 about his immigration executive orders at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave., sending a follow-up letter last month.

“I just wanted him to come back to where he began his political career while he was still president,” Cullerton said. Obama’s state senate office furniture is in storage and will be made available to the Obama library and museum in Chicago “when appropriate,” Cullerton said.

With Congress as gridlocked as the Illinois legislature, Obama said in his last State of the Union address last month, “It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency — that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.”

Obama will address a joint session of the Illinois General Assembly in the House chamber; the last president to do so was President Jimmy Carter on May 26, 1978.

Meanwhile, back in Iowa, Sanders and Clinton, who are deadlocked, have tried to replicate Obama’s 2008 Iowa caucus win; that victory marked the beginning of the end for Clinton’s first run for the White House, as she finished third in the caucus vote.

One striking similarity in 2016 are the Sanders and Clinton signs, with both campaigns using about the same distinctive shade of blue and similar typefaces. On the stump in Iowa, Sanders and Clinton race to see who can embrace Obama, whose famous 2008 campaign slogans were “hope” and “change.”

Sanders talks about how the mostly white Iowa voters were willing to take a chance on a young African American senator, speaking from stages with where his signs carry the slogan, “A Future to Believe in.”

Clinton, at a stop in Des Moines on Friday told a friendly crowd, “We have to believe we can do it again.”

But with only days before the first-in-the-nation presidential vote, Clinton was on the defensive again over the private email server she used as Secretary of State.

The news on Friday: that 22 of those emails contained top secret information.

Sanders has refrained from attacking Clinton on the emails. In a statement late Friday Sanders said, ““As I said at the first Democratic debate, there is a legal process in place which should proceed and not be politicized. The voters of Iowa and this nation deserve a serious discussion of the issues facing them.”

But for Clinton, facing another Iowa defeat, these emails don’t help

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are making their last-minute pitches to Iowa voters this weekend. | Getty Images/Associated Press

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are making their last-minute pitches to Iowa voters this weekend. | Getty Images/Associated Press