SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - As President Barack Obama began a West Coast fundraising tour on Wednesday to raise millions for his re-election campaign, Republicans seized on the glitzy events to paint him as out of touch with Americans struggling with economic distress.
Obama spoke with well-heeled donors at two events in San Francisco and was to fly later to Los Angeles to headline a Beverly Hills gala with gay and lesbian activists.
Comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres was to speak at that event and Darren Criss, a star from the television show "Glee," will perform for an audience of 600 people who paid $1,250 a ticket to attend.
Later, the Democratic president will appear at a smaller fundraiser at a private Beverly Hills residence for 70 people who are each contributing $25,000 to his campaign.
"Americans may wish they could hobnob with the rich and famous but they are much more concerned about how to find a job and pay the bills," said Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.
By the Republican Party's count, Obama has held 150 re-election fundraisers so far, more than previous presidents at this point in the campaign cycle.
"The fact that the president is spending his time with his celebrity friends, holding 150 fundraisers to save his job instead of working to fix our stagnant economy and unemployment shows just how out of touch he is with America's problems," Kukowski said.
The Beverly Hills gala is the latest in a series of star-studded events for Obama, who joined forces with movie star George Clooney last month to raise money and will appear next week with actress Sarah Jessica Parker and Vogue editor Anna Wintour in New York.
Mitt Romney, Obama's rival in the November 6 election, has also been spending time fundraising lately. The Republican was in Texas on Wednesday as part of two-day tour that is set to raise $15 million.
Democrats have defended Obama's fundraising schedule, saying he needs to counter a big advantage Republicans are expected to have from money raised by outside groups that can be used for attack ads.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said while the president's appearances with celebrities tend to grab headlines, he has "vast numbers of small donors who support his campaign."
"I think that the fact that the president enjoys that kind of support speaks to what his policy priorities are. He's out there fighting for the middle class," Carney told reporters on Air Force One on the way to California.
He also noted that Romney had recently appeared with real estate magnate and television personality Donald Trump.
In San Francisco, Obama supporters dined on grilled Coho salmon with purple artichokes and lemon caper sauce in an elegant wood-paneled ballroom. The president was introduced by baseball great Willie Mays.
Obama, who is facing pressure over the sluggish U.S. economy, accused his White House opponent and congressional Republicans of favoring economic policies that would harm the middle class. He said Republican proposals to extend tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans would "blow up the deficit."
"But their theory is - Governor Romney's theory is, the Republican leadership in Congress's theory is - that the economy grows best when we are all on our own, when the market is king and regulations are stripped away and people can do what they please," Obama said.
Obama's two-day West Coast tour wraps up on Thursday with another fundraiser in Los Angeles and then an event in Las Vegas, where he will seek to pressure congressional Republicans in a standoff over interest rates on student loans.
(Reporting By Caren Bohan; Editing by Vicki Allen)