SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
President Obama's reelection fundraising seems to be in full swing. The president has returned from the West Coast with a few million dollars more in his campaign's bank account. Now, in a moment, we'll take an early look at the field of Republicans who are seeking their party's nomination to run against Mr. Obama.
But we begin with NPR's Ari Shapiro, who's traveled with the president this week as he tried to rekindle campaign magic.
ARI SHAPIRO: The 2012 presidential election is still a long ways off. How long? Well, here's what happened when supporters started chanting four more years at a rally on the Sony movie lot this week.
CROWD: (Chanting) Four more years, four more years...
President BARACK OBAMA: Well, actually, technically, it's about five and a half.
(Soundbite of cheering)
SHAPIRO: "Spiderman 4" recently completed filming right here. Now, the cavernous soundstage was full of clamoring fans who treated the president like a superhero.
Mr. OBAMA: This campaign is in its early stages, but now is the time you can step up and help shape it and make sure we're out of the gate strong.
SHAPIRO: Thanks to this trip, the campaign is out of the gate strong financially. Here's a quick breakdown of the numbers: two days, two cities, six fundraisers. Two were big raucous events, like the one at Sony; the other four were smaller, quieter and far more lucrative. Donors paid as much as $35,800 for an intimate meal with the president. That's the most an individual is allowed to contribute by law.
When President Obama left the Sony movie lot, his motorcade raced down empty Los Angeles streets to a restaurant where Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, George Clooney and other Hollywood glitterati were waiting at a small dinner. Recording was not allowed.
The Obama reelection campaign won't say exactly how much was raised in all these fundraisers. Estimates put the totals safely north of $4 million. But even in these pricey glittering bubbles, the real world managed to intrude.
(Soundbite of singing)
SHAPIRO: During a fancy breakfast at San Francisco's St. Regis Hotel, donors at one table stood up and complained in song.
(Soundbite of singing)
GROUP: (Singing) We paid our dues, where's our change, we paid our dues, where's our change?
SHAPIRO: It was not the only time that liberal discontent broke out. Wednesday night at the big San Francisco rally, Mr. Obama said change is tough.
Mr. OBAMA: I know there are times where some of you have felt frustrated because we haven't gotten everything done as fast as we wanted.
SHAPIRO: People in the audience started to shout - gay marriage, clean energy, single-payer health care. For a moment, it felt like the rally might be spinning out of control.
Mr. OBAMA: See there? Case in point. Right? All right. See, I knew I'd open up this can of worms.
SHAPIRO: And disaffected liberals are hardly President Obama's most serious problem. His approval ratings have slipped into the mid-40s. At one private fundraiser, he suggested that if gas prices were lower his poll numbers might be higher.
Nevada banker Lonnie Thomas lends some support to that theory. Between fundraisers, the president flew to Reno, Nevada for a town hall meeting. And Lonnie Thomas did not vote for the president in 2008. He feels neutral about him now and he's very aware of the impact gas prices are having on this community.
Mr. LONNIE THOMAS (Banker): Some of my small business clients who have delivery businesses or who rely on delivering product or whatever, it's hurting them. You can see that the higher gas prices cutting into their profit margins and they're having to adjust, lay people off or curtail certain areas of their business in order to cover the increased cost in gas.
Mr. OBAMA: Now, I admit the Secret Service doesn't let me fill up my own tank now, but I remember before I was president the last time gas prices went up this high, it's tough.
SHAPIRO: The focus of these town hall meetings was supposed to be the president's long-term plan for cutting the deficit. But gas prices came up at every stop. In Reno, he announced that the Justice Department will investigate fraud and manipulation in the oil and gas markets.
As the presidential motorcade zooms by stations selling unleaded at more than $4 a gallon, the man in the limousine needs to remember that the voters are still pumping their own gas.
Ari Shapiro, NPR News, traveling with the president.
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