Obama looks to friend Silicon Valley with Facebook town hall

Obama looks to friend Silicon Valley with Facebook town hall

President Obama is continuing his economic sales pitch in California Wednesday with a high-profile visit to Facebook’s headquarters. 

The town hall is a shot at friending a new generation of young voters and romancing Silicon Valley in one fell swoop, and comes at a critical time for Obama, who has been battered by poor poll numbers suggesting voter unease with his stewardship of the economy. 

The president is expected to sell his vision of the country’s economic future and to criticize the House Republican budget proposal for proposing changes to Medicare at Wednesday’s event, where he will be joined by Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and chief executive of the top social-networking site.

Obama is being interviewed with questions culled from the users of Facebook, a symbol of the high-tech economy the president is looking to embrace.

For Obama, Wednesday’s event marks an unprecedented foray into social-media politicking, placing the Obama campaign apparatus in the hub of social activity for a swath of young voters who were not old enough to vote in the last election. 

The trip to the West Coast is also a clear attempt to tell the essential Silicon Valley donor community that Obama is still their guy. 

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Employees at Microsoft and Google were among the top five groups of donors to Obama’s last campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and their support will be critical if the Obama campaign is to reach its goal of raising $1 billion for the 2012 race. 

While traveling out West, Obama will attend three fundraisers in San Francisco for his reelection effort.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) does not release the totals Obama will raise, but the ticket prices for the events range from $25 to the maximum of $35,800, according to a Democratic source. At one event, Hall of Fame football player Jerry Rice will be speaking. 

Saleforce.com chief executive Marc Benioff is also hosting a top-end event, a $35,800 per person fundraiser at his home. 

The onetime darling of the Valley, Obama won't get a free pass from the technology community this time around. 

Tech companies are waiting for proof that Obama is committed to their issues, according to Dean Garfield, president of the Information Technology Industry Council, including eBay, Microsoft, Google and others. 

“The president and his administration has worked hard at building a solid relationship with Silicon Valley and the folks in the Valley are open to that, but they're also committed to holding the president to his word,” Garfield said. 

Obama heads West armed with ambitious promises to free up the airwaves for mobile broadband and extend wireless connectivity to virtually all Americans, which will play well with tech companies who reach consumers over the Internet. 

But the tech crowd is also listening closely for Obama's plans on trade and on high-tech visas for engineers.

“I suspect Facebook is not unique in having thousands of open positions that are not being filled due to immigration challenges,” Garfield said. 

The White House has made a concerted effort this year to reconnect with Silicon Valley. 

It organized a partnership with Google, Microsoft and others to help small startups scale their firms. Obama also gave Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and top venture capitalist John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers a spot on his jobs council.

The move elevated the social-media and tech community to the status of more established companies, such as GE, which also holds a key place on the council.

Polls suggest Obama continues to have trouble garnering support from independents, which the White House has marked as critical to the president’s reelection. A Marist University poll released Wednesday showed Obama with only a one-point lead over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R). 

In the last two weeks, Obama has made an effort to rally his base, starting with a speech last week ripping Republicans for their budget, which he said would deprive future generations of entitlements. 

On Tuesday, Obama said the GOP wanted to balance the budget on the backs of young people. 

Young voters helped propel Obama to the White House in 2008, and the president continues to enjoy more support from people under 40 years of age than older voters. He made his case to college-aged supporters Tuesday at an event at a Virginia community college. 

Obama says in the Facebook invitation that he hopes people “take a break from friending and defriending each other” long enough to hear him out. 


Sam Youngman contributed to this story.