SAN FRANCISCO — President Barack Obama says he’s waiting for the Republican presidential field to narrow itself down ‘Survivor’-style before he starts paying attention to the contenders running to replace him.
“I’m going to wait until everybody is voted off the island,” Obama said, referring to the popular reality show in which contestants are voted off in each episode.
Obama made the comment in appearance on NBC’s “Tonight Show,” his second stop on Jay Leno’s show as sitting president and fourth appearance overall. Obama taped the appearance in Los Angeles Tuesday morning before heading to San Francisco to raise money for his re-election campaign.
In excerpts released ahead of the show’s airing Tuesday night, Obama also tackled more serious matters, including the killing last week of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. The president said Gadhafi had his chance to loosen his 40-year grip on power and peacefully transition to democracy.
“We gave him ample opportunity, and he wouldn’t do it,” he said. “I think it obviously sends a strong message around the world to dictators that people long to be free, and they need to respect the human rights and the universal aspirations of people.”
When asked about GOP opposition to his decision not to keep U.S. troops in Iraq beyond the end of this year, Obama said: “It’s shocking that they opposed something I proposed.”
The president also tackled questions about Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the NBA lockout and his favorite junk food during the interview.
Obama’s appearance came in the midst of a three-day West Coast swing heavily focused on raising money for his 2012 campaign.
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.”
From San Francisco, Obama was headed to Denver for two more fundraising events.
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 canapés at the movie star couple’s home.
Celebrities are 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 refinance at lower rates.