Monday, March 30, 2009

Obama Town Hall Questioners Were Campaign Backers

Updated 7:02 p.m.
By Garance Franke-Ruta

President Obama has promised to change the way the government does business, but in at least one respect he is taking a page from the Bush playbook, stocking his town hall Thursday with supporters whose soft -- though far from planted -- questions provided openings to discuss his preferred message of the day.

Obama has said, "I think it's important to engage your critics ... because not only will you occasionally change their mind but, more importantly, sometimes they will change your mind," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs recounted to The Post's Lois Romano in an interview Wednesday.

But while the online question portion of the White House town hall was open to any member of the public with an Internet connection, the five fully identified questioners called on randomly by the president in the East Room were anything but a diverse lot. They included: a member of the pro-Obama Service Employees International Union, a member of the Democratic National Committee who campaigned for Obama among Hispanics during the primary; a former Democratic candidate for Virginia state delegate who endorsed Obama last fall in an op-ed in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star; and a Virginia businessman who was a donor to Obama's campaign in 2008.

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