By Steve Holland
MIAMI (Reuters) - President Barack Obama took the first steps on the road to the 2012 elections on Friday, presiding over the first of many fund-raising events to ensure his Democrats can compete against the Republicans.
He cited an improving U.S. economy in a signal that he believes it will help his bid for re-election.
"Now what we're seeing is that having gone through the toughest time in recent memory, the country is on the rebound, the country is on the move," Obama said.
The $1 million raised at two events was not for his own re-election bid but instead was for incumbent Democratic Florida Senator Bill Nelson and other Senate Democrats.
Nelson told the second of the events that Democrats should see hope from the economy after a the jobless rate dropped to 8.9 percent on Friday.
Obama fired up a crowd of loyalists at a Miami hotel by insisting he wants to find common ground with Republicans in a budget fight but is not willing to cut into what he considers needed investments in education, science and technology.
"I'm willing to cut any spending we can't afford," he said. "I'm not willing to cut the basic investments we need for winning the future."
Many experts believe Democrats could have trouble hanging on to control of the U.S. Senate since they hold only a 53-47 advantage after last November's congressional elections and they will be defending more Senate seats in 2012 than the Republicans.
Though his job approval rating is still below 50 percent, Obama's own chances of re-election in 2012 appear to be improving as the U.S. economy picks up steam and Republicans face a long battle to determine their challenger to Obama.
But to win again Obama will need independent voters who fled his Democrats last November and helped Republicans win the House of Representatives.
Mindful of Americans' desire for less partisanship and more cooperation among Democrats and Republicans, Obama said he believes compromise can be found with Republicans over the budget.
"I believe we can find common ground," he said. "Each side is going to have to give a little bit."
Obama's day in Miami was not all politics, but it did feature a member of the Bush family that has produced two presidents, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
Obama also appeared at a Miami high school for an education event with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the younger brother of George W. Bush.
Jeb Bush has been pushed by some Republicans to challenge Obama in 2012 and has consistently said he would not. His appearance with Obama would seem to close the door to any further speculation about 2012 for him.
Obama, who often criticized George W. Bush in his first two years in office, joked of Jeb: "Aside from being a former governor of this great state, Jeb of course is best known as being the brother of Marvin Bush."
"The truth is, I've gotten to know Jeb because his family exemplifies public service," he added.
Obama is putting off his own campaign activities for as long as possible to concentrate on governing while a mix of Republicans prepares to begin a long fight for their own party's presidential nomination.
(Editing by Jackie Frank)