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Obama Heads West on Campaign-Style Swing to Sell Plan on Deficit Reduction

President Barack Obama hits the road today to sell his deficit reduction plan, drawing lines with his Republican opposition over values in a cross-country trip that has all the markings of a campaign swing.

Along with driving his message on the federal budget, Obama, who announced his re-election bid less than three weeks ago, will be attending to essential tasks of a political candidate: raising money, touching base with a core constituency of younger voters and visiting critical states on the electoral map.

In an appearance yesterday in Virginia, a state where in 2008 he was the first Democratic presidential candidate to win since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, Obama cast his differences with Republicans over the deficit as an elevation of national needs over tax cuts for the wealthy.

“We know that the only way to pay for these tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans is by asking seniors to pay thousands of dollars more for their health care, or cutting children out of Head Start,” the president said at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, Virginia. “It’s not a trade-off that I’m willing to make.”

Both the White House and House Republicans have offered plans to reduce cumulative budget deficits by $4 trillion, over 12 years and 10 years respectively. Obama’s plan would include $1 trillion in tax increases that his advisers say could be raised from families earning at least $250,000, while the Republicans’ measure would not raise taxes.

Swing-State Focus

The president leaves today for a three-day trip that will include town hall-style meetings at Facebook Inc.’s headquarters in Palo Alto, California, and in Reno, Nevada, along with fundraisers in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

“It’s not a full-fledged campaign trip, but it has some of the dynamics of preparing to run a campaign,” said Bill Carrick, a Democratic strategist based in Los Angeles. That includes “start focusing on swing states early so you can broaden the electoral map,” he said.

The stop at Facebook headquarters represents an appeal to the 18- to 24-year-old demographic that deserted Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections and contributed to a Republican takeover of the House, said Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

“He’s got to reel those people back in,” Baker said. “One of the things to do, of course, is to appear at the shrine of social networking.”

S&P ‘Negative’ Outlook

The president’s task of promoting his deficit reduction plan gained new urgency this week after Standard & Poor’s placed a “negative” outlook on the nation’s AAA credit rating. The New York-based company cited a “material” risk that Republicans and Democrats would not be able to agree on a plan to reduce long-term deficits by 2013.

Obama must balance the political task of framing differences with Republicans with a role as a kind of educator- and salesman-in-chief on the U.S.’s fiscal predicament, its risks and threats, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.

“I think it’s going to be arduous,” Zandi said of the difficulty facing Obama. “People understand the problem; they don’t understand the scale of it and what it might require in terms of sacrifice to solve.”

Obama also must confront deepening economic pessimism as the price of regular unleaded gasoline has risen to a national average of $3.84 on April 18 from $3.10 at the end of January, according to the American Automobile Association.

Approval Rating

The president’s job approval rating, which started rising after he reached a deal on tax cuts with congressional Republicans in December, reversed course in late January as turmoil in the Middle East began driving up gasoline prices.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released yesterday found that 47 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s job performance, down seven percentage points since January. Even with signs of improvement in economic indicators, 44 percent of Americans said they believed that the economy is deteriorating, the worst reading for the poll in two years.

Obama has responded with messages targeted to local audiences in potential 2012 battleground states.

At the beginning of the week, he conducted interviews with local television stations in Denver, Indianapolis, Dallas and Raleigh, North Carolina. Colorado, North Carolina and Indiana are swing states that Obama carried in 2008, and some Democratic strategists believe the growth in the Hispanic population in Texas makes that state more attainable for the party’s candidates.

Local Interviews

“It’s smart to start talking to these local stations,” Carrick said. “Not only will they get the initial rating from whatever show he’s on, but they’ll be rerun several times. They end up thinking you do care more about North Carolina or Colorado or Texas.”

The town-hall meeting Obama is scheduled to attend in Nevada places the president in a state he carried with 55 percent of the vote in 2008. Two years later, his Democratic Party colleague, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, won re- election with a bare majority.

A swing state that has voted for the winning presidential candidate in every election since 1980, Nevada sustained some of the hardest blows of any state in the recession. A housing boom collapsed, and the tourism and convention business centered in Las Vegas suffered.

The state’s unemployment rate -- 13.2 percent -- was the highest in the nation in March, up from 8.6 percent when Obama won the state in November 2008. More than one out of 10 home loans in Nevada were in foreclosure at the end of last year, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Funding ‘Mother Lode’

In California, Obama will visit a “mother lode” of funding for the Democratic Party, Baker said.

“For a Democrat, Southern California is the bonanza,” he said. “The entertainment community is very generous to Democrats.”

The state provided 20 percent -- $77.8 million -- of the funding for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based organization that examines the influence of money on the political process.

The events in San Francisco and Los Angeles are expected to raise between $4 million and $5 million, said a Democratic official who was not authorized to publicly discuss the party’s fundraising.

To contact the reporters on this story: Roger Runningen in Washington at rrunningen@bloomberg.net; Mike Dorning in Washington at mdorning@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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