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Obama hosts social media town hall at Facebook headquarters

PALO ALTO, Calif. — President Barack Obama sought to connect with younger voters Wednesday with a town hall meeting at the headquarters of Facebook, the hugely popular social networking site.

Obama, who already has a lot of Facebook fans — more than 19 million on his official page — was taking questions at the start of 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, he will be pitching 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.

In Palo Alto, 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.

He’s the first U.S. president to visit Facebook’s headquarters.

Weeks of heated debate in Washington over long- and short-term spending have left Obama with some of the lowest approval ratings of his presidency. But 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 is using all of the resources at his disposal to make his case, from the town halls he’s holding this week to the interviews he’s conducted with local television stations in politically important states. GOP lawmakers, too, are making use of the spring break on Capitol Hill to hold events with constituents.

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.