MIAMI — President Barack Obama hit the Miami fundraising circuit on Monday, picking up big campaign bucks and boasting of his record in running the country.
The president's touting of his accomplishments — a health care overhaul, financial regulatory reform, ending a ban on gays serving in the military — stood in stark contrast to the comments made about him by Republican presidential hopefuls who debated Monday night on CNN and described his term as a failure.
"When 14 million Americans are out of work, we need a new president to end the Obama Depression," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the first among seven contenders on stage to assail the president's economic policies.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum accused Obama of shackling the economy by pursuing "oppressive policies," while former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty labeled Obama a "declinist" who views America "as one of equals around the world," rather than a special nation.
But in Miami, Obama portrayed himself as someone who inherited his troubles, not one who caused them.
"There's no doubt that the country has gone through an extraordinary trauma," Obama said. "My job has frankly been to clean up a big mess. … We yanked the economy out of what could have been a second Great Depression. We stabilized the financial system."
Obama said he was making good on his promise to end the Iraq war and withdraw from Afghanistan. He said financial regulations passed on his watch helped stabilize the economy, led to 2 million new jobs created in 15 months and helped the auto industry become "profitable" again.
"I could not be prouder of the track record that we've put together under these trying times," Obama said.
Obama made the comments at the Miami Beach home of former ambassador to Singapore Steven Green, where about 80 people paid $10,000 to hear the president speak.
The president acknowledged that he is different than the man who ran for the White House three years ago. "For those of you who were involved in the campaign in 2008 and you thought, 'Boy, this is so exciting.' The crowd was so fresh. And you had the posters," he said. "And now you look and you say, 'Boy, his hair's really gray now. He's got a few bags under his eyes.' "
Obama repeated a similar line at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, where an estimated 980 people paid anywhere from $44 to $2,500 to hear the president. The crowd enthusiastically greeted Obama's warm-up acts, former Miami Heat star Alonso Mourning and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the new chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, which co-hosted the fundraisers with the president's re-election campaign.
Obama's priciest fundraiser took place at the Coconut Grove home of Magalie "Maggie'' and Dr. Jean-Philippe Austin. Price: $35,800 per plate. Dr. Austin is a radiation oncologist; Maggie is executive director of Konbit for Haiti, a local organization aimed at managing the Haitian diaspora. The Austins were among a small group in February 2007 that co-hosted a fundraiser for then-Sen. Obama at lawyer Roy Black's home. In May, the couple hosted Michelle Obama at a fundraiser at their home.
The president's trip underscored the importance of the nation's biggest swing state, which is more than just a cash cow to finance a national campaign. Florida is a must win for Republicans due to the vagaries of the Electoral College.
"If President Obama carries Florida, he's re-elected for a second term," said Peter A. Brown, a pollster for Quinnipiac University, which released a survey in late May showing a majority of Florida voters approve of the job Obama's doing.
But how long Obama's approval ratings will last in the bleak economy is anyone's guess.
Though the state's job market appears to have slightly improved, Florida's 10.8 percent unemployment rate remains stubbornly higher than the nation's. The state's home-foreclosure rate is also among the nation's highest.
Florida also has one of the nation's most unpopular Republican governors, Rick Scott, and pollsters say the president could use that to his advantage.
"Rick Scott is his best hope," said Matt Towery, pollster with Atlanta-based InsiderAdvantage.
As with any campaign, money is crucial — and it's plentiful enough in Florida, despite the economy. Obama won't directly use all the money raised Monday. Some will be used by the Democratic National Committee, which is managing events.
Obama is scheduled to leave Miami today for Puerto Rico, marking the first time a sitting president has visited the island in 50 years. Puerto Rican voters are a key Democratic voting bloc in Central Florida.
On Monday, Obama repeatedly noted that he appointed the first Latina to the U.S. Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor. The crowds applauded for that, as well as his decision to end the ban on gays in the military. Obama ticked off the challenges he faced.
"That doesn't count the pirates, the pandemic, the oil spills," he said.
"Bin laden," someone added.
"Yeah, Bin Laden is something we did." More applause.
Miami Herald reporters Jacqueline Charles and David Walter contributed to this report, which also used information from the Associated Press.