President Barack Obama shakes hands with a member of the audience as he leaves a town hall meeting in Reno, Nev., April 21. The President discussed reducing the national debt and bringing down the deficit. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

In two days, President Obama has zigzagged to four West Coast cities, stumped at six fundraisers and touted his economic message at two town halls.

His jampacked schedule highlighted the tasks ahead for a campaigning president hoping to shore up the health of the nation’s finances while drumming up reelection support.

At a town hall meeting Thursday at a clean-fuel company in Reno, Nev., Obama announced that a Justice Department task force will “root out any cases of fraud or manipulation” in oil markets that might be making gasoline prices rise to nearly $4 a gallon.

“We are going to make sure that no one is taking advantage of the American consumers for their own short-term gain,” Obama said.

In all his speeches during
his West Coast swing, Obama pitched his plan to reduce the national debt by $4 trillion over the next 12 years. He said he would do so without cutting Medicaid and Medicare and by raising taxes for the rich.

He has used the events to explain himself to frustrated supporters in California and Nevada. Obama said the prolonged economic slump has bogged down progress. He also blamed congressional opposition and criticized as “radical” a Republican budget plan that he said would strip funding for Medicaid and Medicare.

Political strategists say the passage of Obama’s deficit-reduction plan during a prolonged economic slump would set the stage for his next presidental run.

“California is a natural starting point for a Democratic presidential candidate because there you will find support and money,” said Mark Mellman, a Democratic political strategist. “But there’s no doubt that this is going to be a tough, hard and expensive race.”

The president has been stressing that challenge to his supporters, asking for big donations early with a reelection pitch to help him finish unfulfilled goals.

“This campaign is still at its early stages, but now is the time when you can shape it,” Obama said to an audience of 2,500 campaign contributors at the Nob Hill Masonic Center in San Francisco on Wednesday. “I know there are times where some of you have felt frustrated because we haven’t gotten everything done as fast as you wanted.”

Obama said that his 2008 campaign might have appeared easy but that it wasn’t. He stressed that this campaign will be even harder.

He joked that his hair has turned more gray and that his time as president has been harder than expected. “But change is not simple,” he said.

While the president enjoyed general support in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Reno, he also encountered some criticism. Protesters in San Francisco waved signs calling for his support of gay marriage and an end to the war in Afghanistan.

At a private breakfast fundraiser in San Francisco on Thursday, 10 donors sang a protest song criticizing the military’s detention of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, suspected of leaking classified information to WikiLeaks.

The protesters sang that they each paid $5,000 to attend the event and that “we’ll vote for you in 2012; yes, that’s true. Look at the Republicans — what else can we do?”

And then the criticism: “Alone in a 6-by-12 cell sits Bradley; 23 hours a day is night. The Fifth and Eighth amendments say this kind of thing ain’t right. We paid our dues, where’s our change?”

The president was momentarily knocked off script and looked displeased. But later he shook off the incident and described the Manning protest song as “funny.”

Staff writer Perry Bacon Jr. in Washington contributed to this report.