Obama Kicks Off Social Media Campaign At Facebook

As part of a three-day visit to the West Coast, President Obama kicked off his social media campaign with an online town hall from the offices of Facebook. Obama is trying to sell his deficit-reduction plan. He also is trying to organize supporters and raise money as his reelection campaign gets underway.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, Host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

President Obama is in California and Nevada today. He's trying to pick up support for his deficit reduction plan and pick up some cash for next year's election campaign.

NPR's Ari Shapiro is traveling with the president and filed this report.

ARI SHAPIRO: Social media has always been a key part of the Obama presidency, and this trip began with a town hall meeting at the social media bull's eye - Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California.

LOUISE KELLY: Sorry, I'm kind of nervous. We have the president of the United States here.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

SHAPIRO: That's Facebook's founder, Mark Zuckerberg, who gave up his trademark hooded sweatshirt for the occasion. But he still wore sneakers for the guest of honor.

SHAPIRO: My name is Barack Obama and I'm the guy who got Mark to wear a jacket and tie.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: Soon the jackets came off and the two men sat on stools as Zuckerberg moderated a conversation with questions coming from the Web and the live audience.

President Obama acknowledged several times that, as he put it, this is a pretty young crowd. When he explained his plan to cut deficits in part by raising taxes on the wealthy, the president actually seemed to be at a loss for words.

SHAPIRO: Keep in mind what we're talking about is going back to the rates that existed when Bill Clinton was president. Now, a lot of you were...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: I'm trying to say this delicately - still in diapers at that time. But for those of you who recall, the economy was booming.

SHAPIRO: Republicans in Congress have their own proposals to reduce the deficit, and they say raising taxes is a non-starter. The president talked about bipartisanship and compromise at this event. But he did not hesitate to attack Republican proposals either.

One Facebook employee named Lior Abraham asked about the deficit-cutting agenda that most congressional Republicans support.

LOUISE KELLY: The 2012 budget plan proposed by Paul Ryan has been praised by many in the media as bold or brave. Do you see this as a time that calls for boldness?

SHAPIRO: The president began his answer with an attack.

SHAPIRO: The Republican budget that was put forward I would say is fairly radical. I wouldn't call it particularly courageous.

SHAPIRO: He accused Republicans of making short-sighted cuts in education, infrastructure, and other areas that the president believes are key to economic recovery. And then he moved on to the Republican proposals for changing social welfare programs such as Medicare.

SHAPIRO: Nothing is easier than solving a problem on the backs of people who are poor or people who are powerless or don't have lobbyists or don't have clout.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SHAPIRO: I don't think that's particularly courageous.

SHAPIRO: This is the latest in a series of events to promote the White House's deficit-cutting plan. Later today he holds another town hall meeting in Reno, Nevada.

At Facebook headquarters, the friendly audience and partisan rhetoric gave the event the feel of a campaign rally at times. When the president left Palo Alto, he went to a couple of official campaign events.

At a private home in San Francisco's Pacific Heights neighborhood, donors paid more than $35,000 for dinner with the president. Then he rallied a larger crowd at the Nob Hill Masonic Center.

SHAPIRO: We are connected. We will rise and fall together.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

SHAPIRO: That's the vision of America that I've got. That's the idea at the heart of America. That's the idea at the heart of our campaign.

This is the first major fundraising trip of his 2012 reelection campaign. Before he goes home tomorrow, President Obama will have attended a total of six fundraisers. Today some Hollywood stars are expected to join him at events in Los Angeles.

California was a virtual ATM machine for the Obama campaign in 2008. He raised millions - not only from wealthy donors, but also from small online donations of five or 10 dollars each. This trip is the beginning of a test - to see whether the Obama fundraising magic will continue into the 2012 election and whether the cash and enthusiasm will flow as freely, even after two years of a tough, bruising presidency.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, San Francisco.

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