(CNN) -- With Tea Party protesters gathered outside, President Barack Obama said Thursday he understood the anger and frustration in the country but insisted his policies would move the nation forward.
Speaking at a fundraiser for Richard Blumenthal, the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate in Connecticut, Obama said Republicans and special interests were spending millions on negative ads against Democrats instead of offering any new ideas or proposals to spur economic recovery and job creation.
He noted that Blumenthal's GOP opponent, former World Wrestling Entertainment executive Linda McMahon, had more money than the state attorney general and was spending it on attack ads against him.
"I could see how someone who has a background in professional wrestling would think they're right at home in the U.S Senate," Obama joked to the crowd of more than 300 people expected to raise more than $400,000.
However, the president said, public service "is not a game," but instead involves "facing serious challenges that require serious leaders."
Out on the street, conservative protesters withstood stormy weather to express their concerns with signs criticizing Obama and Blumenthal.
Some held Revolutionary War-era flags depicting a coiled snake and the "Don't Tread on Me" slogan, while other placards in the crowd of mostly white, middle-aged demonstrators said "B.O. Stinks," "I am not your ATM," and "Stop Socialism, vote Nov. 2."
Some signs referred to Blumenthal's admission earlier in the campaign that he had wrongly claimed to have served in Vietnam during the war. "Obama supports liars," one sign read, while others said "No Blumen' way."
Obama said such criticism is part of politics, especially when campaigning against the party in power.
"In a political campaign, the easiest thing the other side can do is ride that anger all the way to Election Day, especially when you've got millions of dollars to burn on negative ads," he said, adding that Republicans aren't offering any new ideas or policies, instead saying they'll return to what he called the failed policies of the past.
"This is a tough election season," Obama said. "People are hurting and they are understandably frustrated. A lot of them are scared and a lot of them are angry."
That dynamic makes it easier to run on a slogan of "cast the bums out," Obama said, adding that "you can't blame folks for feeling that way sometimes."
"But it's not a vision for the future," he said.