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Obama in California: The good, the bad, and the $35,800 dinner plate

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There were other moments in the trip, too, that began to recapture a bit of the excitement of his 2008 campaign. For example, Obama held a town meeting at the offices of social networking site Facebook in Palo Alto, joking it up with its creator, Mark Zuckerberg.

“I’m the one who got Mark Zuckerberg to wear a coat and tie,” Obama told a cheering crowd.

“His stop at Facebook was clearly a tip of the hat to voters under 30,” says political author Kevin McCullough, via e-mail, noting that this age group voted for him on 7 out of 10 ballots it cast in 2008.

Moreover, the stop at Facebook highlighted what’s working in the country, says Brendan Kownacki, director of strategic innovation for Merge Creative Media.

“This is him taking a step up before the race gets crowded to tell the world, 'This is the American brand that is changing the world right now,' " he says.

"The president may have skipped throwing out the first baseball of the season – the traditional way of burnishing a president’s everyman credentials – but going to Facebook was the new-school way to show his human side,” Mr. Kownacki adds.

Another aspect of the 2008 campaign that Obama wants to recapture is his historic fundraising machine. According to the Federal Election Commission, Obama raised $124 million in California in 2008, "and there are no indications that he will slow down for 2012," says Jessica Levinson, political reform director for the Center for Governmental Studies.

To that end, it’s important to pin down some of the top names early.

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