PALO ALTO, Calif (Reuters) - President Barack Obama sought to reignite the youthful energy that propelled his 2008 election Wednesday with a campaign-style visit to the nexus of social communications, Facebook.
Democrats acknowledge that Obama will need to rally many of the same forces that propelled him into the White House in order to win re-election in 2012: an army of young, energetic voters as well as a sizable showing from independent voters.
By visiting Facebook headquarters in California’s Silicon Valley, where 26-year-old founder Mark Zuckerberg is a folk hero, Obama sought to connect to tens of millions of people who have adopted social media as a prime method of communications.
“My name is Barack Obama and I‘m the guy who got Mark to wear a jacket and tie,” the president said, to laughter, at the beginning of a live-streamed town hall event with Zuckerberg.
Zuckerberg, dressed in jeans, sneakers and a tie, and Obama, dressed in a business suit, then took off their jackets before the president started fielding questions about how to reduce the budget deficit, which is projected to hit $1.4 trillion this fiscal year.
Promoting his plan of spending cuts and tax increases for the wealthiest Americans, Obama told the rich Facebook founder that both of them would have to pay more taxes to help out.
“I‘m cool with that,” Zuckerberg said.
Obama heads to San Francisco for Democratic fund-raising events after the Facebook session.
He then plans stops in Las Vegas and Los Angeles before returning to Washington Friday.
Jon Krosnick, a political science professor at Stanford University, said having Obama on stage with Zuckerberg could help the president with young people.
“That alone is a way of trying to re-energize this young generation that might be crucial for him to be re-elected again,” Krosnick said.
Obama held his deficit-cutting roadshow as policy-makers and financial markets recover from ratings agency Standard & Poor’s threat to downgrade America’s triple-A credit rating on worries Washington won’t address its fiscal woes.
A potential Republican challenger to Obama, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, said S&P “downgraded the Obama presidency” and that Obama should meet with S&P officials to try to gain their confidence.
It is early in the 2012 election cycle, but Obama has much work ahead. An ABC News/Washington Post poll released on Tuesday showed Obama’s approval ratings near record lows because of deepening economic pessimism among Americans.
Ipsos pollster Cliff Young said rising gasoline prices are taking their toll but they probably did not present a long-term problem for Obama, who he called the odds-on favorite.
Obama is using the first steps on the road to 2012 to promote a budget ideology that is at odds with the fiscal views of Republicans who are planning presidential campaigns.
He wants to raise taxes on wealthier Americans to fund social programs while making some budget cuts, a plan he says would bring down deficits by $4 trillion over 12 years.
Republican Representative Paul Ryan has called for slightly higher cuts, $4.4 trillion over 10 years, without raising taxes. He would make deep cuts in spending, including overhauls in the Medicare and Medicaid health programs for the elderly and poor that Democrats say would violate the “social compact” with Americans.
Obama said Ryan’s plan was “fairly radical” and that his budget proposal was not “particularly courageous.”
“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,” he said to applause.
Polls suggests Americans so far are siding with Obama.
Data released from the ABC News/Washington Post poll on Wednesday said 72 percent of those surveyed favor higher taxes for wealthy Americans and 78 percent opposed to cutting health benefits for the elderly. The survey of 1,001 adults has a 3.5 percentage point error margin.
Additional reporting by Kim Dixon, Alister Bull, Peter Henderson, Alexei Oreskovic and David Morgan; Writing by Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; Editing by Deborah Charles