President Obama tossed some "red meat" to the donors that crowded into his Chicago event for Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias.

"He's not doing this to help lobbyists. He's not doing it to help special interests," Obama told attendees at the Palmer House Hilton who gave between $1,000 and $2,400 to Giannoulias's campaign.

He called his former pick-up basketball partner a "fighter."

"We need fighters like Alexi in Washington because, I don't know if you've noticed, we've got a lot of work to do," Obama said, according to the Chicago Tribune. "The last few years have been incredibly challenging for the United States.

"You can trust him. You can count on him."

Donations to Giannoulias's campaign dropped off significantly after his family's bank collapsed in April. The event was expected to raise $1 million for the Democrat, who has trailed Republican rival Mark KirkMark Steven KirkThis week: Trump heads to Capitol Hill Trump attending Senate GOP lunch Tuesday High stakes as Trump heads to Hill MORE in the money race.

As Obama spoke, a group of Tea Party supporters were gathered outside the hotel chanting: "2012. We can't wait."