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Obama's 2012 pitch: Still unfinished business

President Barack Obama talks in between segments of an interview at The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011, in Burbank, Calif. President Barack Obama talks in between segments of an interview at The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011, in Burbank, Calif. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
By Jim Kuhnhenn
Associated Press / October 25, 2011

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DENVER—Raising money and appealing for votes, President Barack Obama is framing his 2012 re-election campaign as a call to complete unfinished business and as a clear choice between his ideas and those of potential rivals who he says are no different than the congressional Republicans who are thwarting him now.

The message lets Obama highlight accomplishments and lump Republican presidential candidates with unpopular legislators. Time and again Obama reminds his campaign backers that the 2012 election will be more difficult than the last. And, aware that some Democrats are less enthusiastic about him than they were three years ago, he is using every opportunity to enumerate achievements, from health care to financial regulatory changes to the repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gay service members.

Lately, Obama has been telling audiences that he is marking off a list of campaign promises he made in 2008.

"We're through about 60 percent of it," he told a group of 100 donors in Denver Tuesday. "Which isn't bad for three years."

"There's still a lot of people hurting and there's still a lot of work to do," he continued. "And that 40 percent that's not done, I'm going to need you, because I need five more years."

Denver was the last stop in a three-day swing that also took him to Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco, a fundraising-rich tour that let him spend time with top Los Angeles celebrities and to get some media attention in the battleground states of Nevada and Colorado.

During a quick stop in San Francisco Tuesday afternoon, Obama sought to draw a distinction between his economic plans and those of his Republican rivals, who he said are only interested in cutting taxes for the wealthy and eliminating regulations.

"It's not as if we haven't tried what they're selling. We have. And it didn't work," he told a 200-person crowd, each of whom paid a minimum of $5,000 to attend.

With his poll numbers sagging and enthusiasm among some of his supporters waning, the president reminded backers that his administration has had significant accomplishments, from overhauling health care to ending the military's ban on gay service members. But he acknowledged that change hasn't always been easy to come by.

"It's not as trendy to be an Obama supporter as it was back in 2008," he said. "We've had setbacks, we've had disappointments. I've made mistakes on occasion."

The Western tour is one of Obama's busiest donor outreach trips of the season. In Los Angeles Monday, he turned to celebrities, including actor Will Smith and basketball legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson, to bring in money, and mingled with Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas over canapes at the movie star couple's home.

Celebrities are a tried-and-true fundraising draw, particularly for Democratic presidents. Both the president and the stars bask in their reflected fame and the endorsement of stars can be a useful asset.

California ranks as Obama's top donor state, and he raised about $1 million in the Los Angeles area alone during the last two fundraising quarters, according to an Associated Press review of contributions above $200.

Not that he needs the votes in California, a solidly Democratic state. However, Sacramento-based Democratic consultant Roger Salazar said the president, echoing national trends, is less popular now in the state than he was when he was elected.

"Democrats by their nature are going to give the president the benefit of the doubt," said Salazar, a veteran of California and national political campaigns. "But they want him to do something about it. They want to see some movement."

Obama is promising some movement. He has been promoting his $447 billion jobs bill, which has been broken up into its component parts in hopes Congress can pass some of them.

He's also focusing on steps his administration can take without congressional approval, including an initiative announced Tuesday to offer millions of student loan borrowers the ability to lower their payments and consolidate their loans. Earlier this week, the administration unilaterally created new rules to allow homeowners who are deeply underwater on their mortgages to refinance at lower rates.

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Associated Press writer Jack Gillum in Washington contributed to this report.