(AP) — Stepping away from Washington's contentious fiscal debates, President Barack Obama is making a West Coast trip aimed at building support for his deficit-reduction plans and raising money for his re-election campaign.
In town hall meetings in California and Nevada, including one hosted Wednesday by Facebook, Obama will pitch his prescription for reducing the deficit by $4 trillion over 12 years through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases for the rich. The president's three-day trip is his most extensive travel since he announced his 2012 bid earlier this month.
That campaign could set new fundraising records as Obama courts high-dollar donors, as well as young people, many of whom were among the small donors who buoyed his 2008 campaign.
Returning to that campaign's playbook, Obama will seek to connect with those younger voters through social networking sites like Facebook. The president's official Facebook page has more than 19 million fans, and he'll become the first U.S. president to visit the massively popular company's Palo Alto headquarters when he conducts the town hall there.
Obama was expected to answer questions submitted via Facebook and read to him by a moderator, as well as some questions from a small in-person audience. Video of the event was to be streamed on the White House Facebook page.
Weeks of heated debate in Washington over long- and short-term spending has left Obama with some of the lowest approval ratings of his presidency. The numbers are even lower for the Republican-led House and Obama's potential Republican challengers.
Voters say they want Washington to tackle deep deficit reductions, and both parties are responding — Obama with his plan to cut $4 trillion, and House Republicans with a plan passed last week that seeks to cut $5.8 trillion in spending over 10 years. The challenge for the president and his Republican rivals is to also connect their efforts with the public's pressing concerns over persistently high unemployment and rising gasoline prices.
Obama's message is that any gains in furthering the economic recovery now could be lost unless lawmakers also tackle the nation's mounting deficits and debt.
"Companies might be less likely to set up shop here in the United States of America," Obama said during a town hall in Northern Virginia on Tuesday. "It could end up costing you more to take out a loan for a home or for a car because if people keep having to finance America's debt, at a certain point they're going to start charging higher interest rates."
Obama is using all of the resources at his disposal to make that case, from the town halls he'll hold this week to the interviews he's conducted with local television stations in politically important states. While GOP lawmakers are making use of a break on Capitol Hill to hold events with constituents to pitch their parties' fiscal plans, the presidency carries with it clear advantages.
"No member of Congress, no speaker of the House, no senator can command the public's attention the way a sitting president can," said Joel Johnson, a lobbyist and former top aide to President Bill Clinton.
In this age of Twitter, YouTube and dwindling viewership of broadcast evening news, a president must use every resource available, White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
"It's a mix of traditional media, new media, national media, regional media," Carney told reporters. "You've got to reach Americans where they are."
Republicans acknowledge that Obama's 2008 campaign bested them at using social media to raise money and fire up supporters. GOP candidates trying to take Obama's job — such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who announced his 2012 campaign on Twitter, and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has taped a series of videos for YouTube — are looking to borrow from his earlier campaign's techniques.
Jennifer Palmieri, who was a press aide to Clinton, said Obama is smart to use all the media tricks in his bag, but nothing will keep Republicans from attacking him fiercely. They just might have to work a bit harder at it.
Associated Press writers Charles Babington in Washington and Marcus Wohlsen in San Francisco contributed to this report.