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Obama Headlines Star-Studded Fundraiser In Beverly Hills (PHOTOS)

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LOS ANGELES — President Barack Obama defended his Supreme Court pick and painted an upbeat vision of the economy Wednesday as he addressed major donors to the Democratic Party in Beverly Hills.

"It's safe to say we have stepped back from the brink, that there is some calm that didn't exist before," Obama told donors and celebrities at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. He said the stimulus bill that Congress passed three months ago is starting to improve the economy.

He also addressed critics of his choice of federal judge Sonia Sotomayor for the nation's highest court. Sotomayor has stirred some controversy by saying her experiences as a Latina from a struggling, immigrant family make her more sensitive to certain cases than more privileged people might be.

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"A lot has been made about the Supreme Court and my criteria," Obama said in a 20-minute speech to 250 of the night's biggest donors. "I want people who have a common touch, who have a sense of what it's like to struggle."

He praised Sotomayor because she knows that "every once in a while, people need a hand up."

The president mixed optimism with caution as he thanked those who backed his campaign. He acknowledged that his young administration has had "some fits and starts."

"I've made some mistakes, and I guarantee you I will make some more," he said.

But Obama said his November campaign victory and his administration's start has convinced many Americans they don't need to feel cynical about their government or society. There is now a sense "that maybe that kind of idealism is fashionable after all," he said.

Tickets to Wednesday night's two-tiered event ranged from $1,000 to $15,200. The lower prices bought access to a ballroom where Obama made a second, much shorter speech.

The bigger donors attended a dinner, where Obama spoke first, hosted by movie and music executives Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen.

Aides said the Democratic National Committee will net more than $3 million from the night's events, even though some ticket prices were slashed to $1,000 from $2,500 when initial sales were slow.

Obama held a similar two-tiered fundraising event Tuesday in Las Vegas, mainly on behalf of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who may face a tough re-election race next year.

Obama had no other events in California and planned to return to Washington early Thursday. Before flying to Los Angeles on Wednesday, he held an event on the economy and energy near Las Vegas.

While many Obama supporters waved and cheered as his motorcade approached the Beverly Hilton, some protesters decried Tuesday's California Supreme Court ruling that upheld the voter-approved gay marriage ban. Some of them also urged Obama to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gays.

Obama said he could not hear the protesters' exact words, but he agreed with one who shouted that the president should keep his promises.

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Associated Press writer Michael R. Blood contributed to this report.