Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with the Axios AM and PM newsletters. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to the Axios Closer newsletter for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios Pro Rata

Dive into the world of dealmakers across VC, PE and M&A with Axios Pro Rata. Delivered daily to your inbox by Dan Primack and Kia Kokalitcheva.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with the Axios Sports newsletter. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Des Moines newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Tampa Bay newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Nashville news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Nashville newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Columbus news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Columbus newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Dallas news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Dallas newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Austin news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Austin newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Atlanta news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Atlanta newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Philadelphia news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Philadelphia newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Chicago news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Chicago newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios NW Arkansas

Stay up-to-date on the most important and interesting stories affecting NW Arkansas, authored by local reporters

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top DC news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios DC newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Photo illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

The questions started as soon as Mark Zuckerberg announced on his Facebook page in early January that his "personal challenge" for the year was to travel the roughly 30 states he'd never visited. Was he launching a political career? Making amends for a year of politically-tinged crisis at the company?

It's premature to say what exactly Zuckerberg and his empire will get out of the year-long junket, and he says he isn't running for president. But a few months into his project, there's an early message: Less Crunchies, more Country Music Association Awards.

Zuckerberg has chatted with military spouses in North Carolina and sped around a racetrack with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He sat down with the coaches of more than one revered southern college sports program and talked about diversity at a historically black university. Once an atheist, he now drops in on church services.

Why it matters: It's been a bruising year for Facebook's public image. The left criticized it for spreading fake news and the right charged that one of its features was rife with bias. How Zuckerberg is positioning himself right now is telling about how the company is moving forward. A Facebook spokesman, asked about the purpose of the trip, pointed to a section of Zuckerberg's announcement saying the CEO's "work is about connecting the world and giving everyone a voice. I want to personally hear more of those voices this year."

The big themes: Zuckerberg's on-the-road dispatches have the message discipline of a political campaign. There are several themes he hits again and again.

  • Communities matter. Zuckerberg kissed the rings of coaches at Duke, the University of North Carolina and the University of Alabama to learn about the role that sports play in building communities. He's talked to local businesspeople about how the Gulf rebounded from Katrina.
  • The importance of technology in American life. He talked about automation on an oil rig. At North Carolina's Ft. Bragg, he spoke with military spouses about how they used Facebook's tools to communicate with their loved ones on deployment.
  • Building strong teams. He's repeatedly expressed an interest in how the people he meets on the road build successful organizations.
  • Social justice as a priority. His appearance at North Carolina A&T State University let him talk about the importance of diversity (although Facebook's U.S. workforce has only two percent black employees). And he remarked when visiting a Civil War cemetery that it had "struck me over the past few days how much our history is still part of our every day life."

The itinerary: There's a focus on cultural touchstones often associated with conservative America. Think NASCAR and SEC football, rodeos and farming, and life in the military. Those institutions are also economically important in the communities he's visiting.

It's worth noting, however, that he's also visited Washington state (though not for the first time) and his activities rarely have a true political edge. A source familiar with the planning of his travel said that the list of states Zuckerberg plans to visit to complete his challenge includes places less right-leaning than his initial destinations.

Behind the curtain:

  • Those set-piece visits take a lot of planning. Facebook reached out to the race track in Charlotte a couple of weeks before his visit, for example, according to track spokesman Scott Cooper. An advance team — Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price estimated that four or five staffers handled the advance work before Zuckerberg visited the city — scouts venues in advance to make sure the logistics would work. Price said it isn't overkill. "Other than that, he was very easy," she said.
  • A lot of work goes into the day itself. That Facebook Live where Zuckerberg took a spin around Charlotte Motor Speedway with Dale Earnhardt, Jr.? It was shot with help from NASCAR's official production arm. He's trailed at some points by a photographer and videographer. During the Fort Worth visit it was Facebook that chose a visit to the rodeo over a trip to local museums or stockyard. A Facebook spokesman declined to comment on the details of how the trips are planned.
  • Sometimes, however, he's just another tourist. Officials at the Vicksburg National Military Park didn't know he'd stopped by until they saw him post about it online.

Zuckerberg asks a lot of questions: Whether the topic was stock car engines or the military or raising livestock, people who accompanied Zuckerberg say he wanted to know more. "He was charming," Price said, noting that when Zuckerberg met riders at a local rodeo he was "amazed at what they did and the risk they took."

"You just don't see a lot of people who have what he has willing to get out and go to smaller towns, and even bigger cities, and that are as inquisitive as he is," said Price. "That want to experience it."

The bottom line: With each new glossy photo and polished Facebook post, Zuckerberg is seen as having a presence beyond Menlo Park. It's the gaffe-proof precision of the campaign trail, deployed by one of the most powerful companies and executives in America, while also allowing Zuckerberg to connect with his user base.

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Satellite imagery of the Northeastern U.S. taken by NOAA on Jan. 17. Photo: NOAA

A major winter storm lashed much of the East Coast Sunday and Monday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The latest: Authorities in North Carolina confirmed that two people died in a car crash and that they responded 600 vehicle accidents during the storm on Sunday, per the Washington Post.

Texas abortion law remains in effect after appeals court ruling

Pro- and anti-abortion protesters outside the Supreme Court as arguments begin about the Texas abortion law on Capitol Hill in November. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A U.S. appeals court transferred a challenge to Texas' law banning most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy to the state supreme court in a 2-1 vote on Monday evening.

Why it matters: The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision means the country's most restrictive abortion law can remain in place for the time being.

5 hours ago - World

At least 2 dead after Tonga volcano eruption and tsunami

A satellite image of the explosive eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano on Saturday. Photo: UNICEF/NOAA

At least two people are confirmed to have died in Tonga following the undersea volcanic eruption that sent tsunami waves toward the island nation and across the Pacific over the weekend, officials said Monday.

The big picture: Officials reported major damage along the western coast of the main island of Tongatapu, where the capital, Nuku'alofa, was covered in ash and dust, including on the runway of the airport. A New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson told Axios over the phone that two people had been confirmed to have died in the disaster.