By Dan Froomkin
12:25 PM ET, 03/18/2009
President Obama kicks off his Southern California trip later today with a town hall meeting in Orange County -- kind of a gutsy move, considering that the county is widely considered one of the nation's great bastions of conservatism.
Dena Bunis and Martin Wiskol write in the Orange County Register: "What better place to demonstrate that President Barack Obama will go anywhere and before any kind of audience to sell his fix for the economy than Orange County?
"White House officials won't say how they decided to include a town hall in Costa Mesa in the leader of the free world's first trip to California as president. Or even why the Golden State made his first 100 days list....
"Some local politicians and people who have worked to bring the president here have their theories about why O.C. made the cut.
"'I think this is an ideal place if you want to reach out to people and have an open forum where you potentially are going to have a hostile audience,'' said Orange County Democratic Party Chairman Frank Barbaro....
"'If he went to Los Angeles or San Francisco, it would be seen as preaching to the choir,' said Wylie Aitken, chairman of the Democratic Foundation of Orange County. 'My sense of it is that it will play very well to the national audience. I think this shows how strong a grasp he has on what it takes to be a great communicator.'
"Republican Michael Schroeder, a former GOP state chairman, agrees that by coming to Orange County Obama is saying "I can go anywhere."'"
Then again, Obama's visit could say more about Orange County than about him. Carla Marinucci writes in the San Franciso Chronicle: "President Obama's decision to kick off his first official visit to California with a town hall meeting in Orange County says it all: Change really has come to the hard-core Republican stronghold."
Indeed, as Jonathan Darman wrote recently in Newsweek: "In November, a place that fancies itself 'the reddest county in America' gave the Democratic nominee for president nearly 48 percent of the vote."
Also consider that the largest concentration of sub-prime lenders was headquartered in Orange County when the meltdown began, and that the county has been devastated by the foreclosure crisis.
Judging from the long and enthusiastic lines to get tickets on Tuesday, it's unlikely too many sharp critics will be in the audience today.
Jennifer Muir and Niyaz Pirani write for the Orange County Register: "White House officials started handing out tickets to the town hall meeting at 10 a.m. this morning, as thousands of people waited in a line that snaked around the fairgrounds parking lot for a chance to attend the town hall meeting.
"The scene was like the outside of a rock concert, onlookers said.
"Five minutes before the gate into the Orange County fairgrounds ticket booth opened, the front of the line spontaneously erupted into a wave."
The Register also asked folks in line what they'd ask Obama.
The Los Angeles Times editorial board notes Obama's planned stop in Burbank to appear on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno": "This has set tongues wagging in the capital not only because it's the first time a sitting president has done such a thing -- although late-night TV appearances are common for presidential candidates, Obama's predecessors have considered them beneath the dignity of the office once they were elected -- but because it's combined with a snub of the Beltway media elite. Even as he bypasses the press to take his message straight to Leno's 5 million viewers, Obama is ditching Washington's movers and shakers by skipping the Gridiron Club's annual dinner on Saturday. He's the first president to do so since Grover Cleveland."