Obama adds online town hall to communications plan

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President Obama added a wrinkle to his communications strategy today -- a town hall meeting mixing online and in-person questions -- that gave him another soapbox for pushing his budget proposal.

The White House boasted that 92,925 people had submitted 104,127 questions and cast 3.6 million votes on those questions, all by visiting the whitehouse.gov Web site. Obama answered seven of those questions and called on six people in the East Room. The president broke little new ground, treading familiar territory on education, housing, health care, college loans and assistance for small businesses.

The only surprise question was one Obama brought up on his own, noting with some amazement that many Americans wanted it answered. "I have to say there was one question that was voted on that ranked fairly high and that was whether legalizing marijuana would improve the economy and job creation." With a laugh, he said he wasn't sure "what this says about the online audience." But he said, "We wanted to make sure it was answered. The answer is no. I don't think that is a good strategy to grow our economy."

The event, the first of its kind in the White House, capped an unusually busy time in the bully pulpit for the president. In recent days he has mixed tried-and-true events such as a prime-time news conference and private meetings with lawmakers with some not-so-usual moves, including an appearance on "The Tonight Show," an interview on "60 Minutes" and a hands-on filling out of his NCAA basketball tournament bracket that aired on ESPN.

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