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Obama focuses on outreach through the Web

Someone really is reading those comments left on Barack Obama's Web sites: the president himself.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Someone really is reading those comments left on Barack Obama's Web sites: the president himself.

The White House on Monday changed the name of a major office to reflect how much the administration is using the Internet to sell its agenda and communicate directly with voters. For a candidate who harnessed the Internet to win the presidency, the move — announced on the White House Web site, naturally — underscores Obama's understanding of new media's power.

"This office will seek to engage as many Americans as possible in the difficult work of changing this country, through meetings and conversations with groups and individuals held in Washington and across the country," Obama said in a video message posted to the Web.

Coupled with that, Obama read a 33-page report with comments from his pre-presidency Web site, letting him know his supporters' single top priority for the new administration: changing the nation's policy banning marijuana.

The report also included affirmation for his campaign promises to improve care for veterans, invest in environmentally friendly jobs and end abstinence-only education.

"The longer we keep our children in the dark about their bodies, the longer these facts will continue to be true. The longer we endanger the very children we seek to protect," read one comment included in the report. "Sex WILL happen."

White House officials said the report was not edited and reflected popular sentiment on the Web, a strategy that let Obama's supporters harness a populist appeal and believe they had ownership of his campaign.

The administrative change from the "Office of Public Liaison" to the "Office of Public Engagement" shifted only a few words, but it was a difference that represents a fundamental retooling of how the White House deals with residents.

So far, millions of people have sent e-mails or left comments on the White House's Web site, Each eventually gets a response, aides say.

The White House also hosted an online town hall, which drew 100,000 participants to hear Obama take questions chosen by visitors. Some 3.5 million clicks determined which questions the president answered, including one on marijuana policy.

At other times, top administration officials have taken questions on the Web, including Kareem Dale, who advises Obama on disability policy, and economic adviser Jason Furman.

The approach to the Internet has been a staple of Obama's political approach since the beginning. During his upstart campaign, Obama used a grass roots approach that let supporters organize online — and later in person at massive rallies — to help him win the nomination.

The Internet also raised millions for him in campaign contributions, mostly in small denominations.

During his transition from candidate to president, advisers invited comments from the Web. The White House says 125,000 users submitted some 44,000 ideas. More than 1.4 million votes were cast and summarized in the report to Obama.