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Charles Dharapak  /  AP
President Barack Obama points towards visitors singing "Happy Birthday" to him as he walks toward Marine One helicopter on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on Wednesday.
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updated 8/4/2010 9:15:07 PM ET 2010-08-05T01:15:07

Alone on his 49th birthday, President Barack Obama fled the empty White House mansion and headed for a more intimate celebration with longtime friends in his Chicago hometown.

Obama has been living a bachelor's life for the past several days with first lady Michelle Obama and daughter Sasha visiting Spain and daughter Malia spending the month away at an undisclosed camp.

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.

"Needless to say ... both those calls were the highlights of his day," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters who traveled with Obama aboard Air Force One.

Related: Malia Obama's excellent summer camp adventure

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'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 Obama, including ones mocking the ethics problems of Democratic Reps. Charles Rangel of New York and Maxine Waters of California, 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 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 he said the Secret Service had nixed the idea.

Obama said he'd have a talk with the agents then joked, "They're probably eating it right now."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Michelle, Sasha Obama’s ritzy Spain holiday

  1. Transcript of: Michelle, Sasha Obama’s ritzy Spain holiday

    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: President Obama celebrates his 49th birthday today but his wife and his daughters will not be around to help him blow out the candles on his birthday cake . NBC 's Norah O'Donnell can explain why. Norah , good morning to you.

    NORAH O'DONNELL reporting: Good morning, Meredith . Well, you could say the first lady is saying adios to President Obama on his 49th birthday. We just got pictures of the first lady and daughter Sasha arriving in Spain because they're going to be visiting one of the world's most exclusive resorts. Spain is known for its flamingo, its bullfighting and tapas. Just part of what the country has to offer first lady Michelle Obama and her youngest daughter, nine-year-old Sasha .

    O'DONNELL: The White House calls it a private mother/daughter trip with friends, a four-day visit to Marbella .

    Ms. KATE MAXWELL (Conde Nast Traveler): It attracts a lot of the world's glitzy rich and famous, professional footballers, TV stars. There's a big yachting scene and a lot of golf courses in the area as well.

    O'DONNELL: The Obamas have reportedly booked dozens of rooms at Spain 's most exclusive hotel, a Ritz-Carlton resort. The five-star Hotel Villa Padierna , boasts five restaurants, a spa and three 18-hole golf courses . And the rooms are not cheap.

    Ms. MAXWELL: The price of rooms at the Ritz-Carlton really is going to keep the riffraff out. I think they range in price form about $250 a night to about $6500 a night.

    O'DONNELL: The hefty price tag for the trip is raising questions about whether taxpayers will have to foot the bill.

    Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (White House Press Secretary): It's a private trip and is being paid for that way.

    O'DONNELL: Mrs. Obama will also make an official visit to Spain 's King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia . Overseas trips for first ladies are not rare. In fact, last year the first family visited Russia , Italy and Africa . And Mrs. Clinton once took daughter Chelsea on a whirlwind trip to Africa .

    Ms. MYRA GUTIN (First Lady Historian): Mrs. Obama going to the resort might generate some negative criticism because of the fact that the resort where she'll be staying is rather lavish during times when the economy is not very good and many people are looking for work.

    O'DONNELL: And while Mrs. Obama is jet-setting overseas, the president is is home alone making a trip to Chicago on his birthday.

    President BARACK OBAMA: All right, guys.

    Mr. GIBBS: Of course he will miss them. They'll be all back together soon.

    O'DONNELL: The whole family won't be back together again until late August when they vacation in Martha's Vineyard .

    Pres. OBAMA: Malia going away for camp, which she's never done before, and I may shed a tear when she's on the way off.

    O'DONNELL: Well, today is in fact President Obama 's 49th birthday, but he won't really be home alone. In fact, he might be spending some time out on the town, his old stomping grounds in Chicago . That's where he's headed today. He's got some big fundraisers there tomorrow. Meredith :

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