"We goofed up. I goofed up," he said of 2008. "But the American people carried us forward."
He then moved onto the late-night soiree at the restaurant, an event expected to rake in $3.75 million. Here, for a second time, he knocked his own performance in the Wednesday debate, reminding donors that it fell on his 20th wedding anniversary and dryly noting there was speculation that had an "impact on my performance."
The president told a story of belatedly celebrating that anniversary with his wife, Michelle, over the weekend at a Washington restaurant. He said at the end, their waiter told him "you saved my mother's life" by signing into law a health care act that allowed her to get insurance coverage after suffering a stroke. Obama said such personal stories remind him what the race is about.
"That's what the next 30 days is about," he said. "And that's why I intend to win."
Former President Bill Clinton joined Obama earlier Sunday for a more intimate gathering with elite, longtime donors at the home of entertainment mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg.
At the same time, Ann Romney was working to soften her husband's image, a frequent refrain as Romney's campaign seeks to broaden his support among centrist voters in the race's final weeks. Introducing her husband on Sunday, Mrs. Romney called him "a good and decent person" who had helped others throughout his life.
"Now we're going to get a chance for him to really care for others, because we're going to have the chance to see him get people back to work again," she said.
Both campaigns were prepping their running mates for Thursday's vice presidential debate — and working to keep expectations low lest their candidate underperform.