President Obama dropped in for a quick Seattle fundraising visit today as part of his West Coast campaign swing.
President Obama blew through the Seattle area Sunday, filling his campaign coffers at two fundraisers and exhorting supporters to “shake off any doldrums” and back his jobs agenda and re-election campaign.
Unlike his last visit to Seattle in October, Obama’s trip included no public events. Instead, the president took his message to an exclusive audience at a posh Medina estate and to a larger crowd inside the Paramount Theatre as part of a West Coast fundraising swing expected to raise millions.
Obama also tested an increasingly aggressive campaign message aimed at re-energizing Democrats discouraged by what some have seen as his failure to stand up to the GOP on ending tax breaks for the wealthy and other issues.
He pushed back against Republicans who have called his proposals to raise taxes on millionaires “class warfare.”
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“The only class warfare I’ve seen is the battle being waged against the middle class in this country for decades,” Obama said at the Paramount.
Facing a difficult re-election campaign, Obama has kicked off a fundraising effort likely to surpass his 2008 haul of nearly $750 million — perhaps even nearing the $1 billion mark.
In Seattle and its wealthy suburbs, Obama was returning to friendly territory. He raised nearly $22 million from Washington donors in 2008. Sen. John McCain, the GOP’s 2008 presidential nominee, received just $2.8 million from here.
The Obama campaign gave no estimate for how much money was raised Sunday, but the Medina event alone was staged to raise more than $1 million. The money was to be split between the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
The president touched down on Air Force One at Boeing Field shortly before noon to a rain squall that cleared just in time for Obama’s exit onto the tarmac, where he was greeted by Gov. Chris Gregoire and other local officials.
He was whisked by motorcade to the Medina home of former Microsoft executive Jon Shirley.
Medina, along the eastern shore of Lake Washington, is among the state’s wealthiest enclaves, home to corporate CEOs and other well-heeled families. As such, it is no stranger to presidential fundraising visits.
President George W. Bush stopped by in 2006 for a fundraiser at the Medina estate of Microsoft executive Peter Neupert. And current GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney attended a fundraiser in the neighborhood in July at the home of John Connors, a former Microsoft executive and venture capitalist.
Medina resident Diana Murray, who came out to watch the president’s motorcade roll by, said this marked the fifth president or presidential candidate she’d seen come to the neighborhood in her 13 years there.
For Obama’s event Sunday, a crowd of about 65 paid $35,800 per couple for a private question-and-answer session with the president, plus brunch. The audience included Costco CEO Jim Sinegal; venture capitalist and former Delta Air Lines CEO Gerald Grinstein; and Bill Neukom, CEO and managing partner of the San Francisco Giants.
In addition to being major Democratic donors, Shirley and his wife, Mary, are influential Seattle arts patrons. Their waterfront residence, at more than 27,000 square feet and an assessed value of $37.3 million, looks more museum than house, with a mammoth sculpture of a safety pin outside and indoor hallways lined with modern art.
Obama kicked off his remarks with a bit of a gaffe, referring to host Jon Shirley as “Mark” before being corrected by the audience.
Obama defended his record, while acknowledging the recovery from the recession has been too slow and left a lot of people hurting.
He attacked congressional Republicans, saying he had hoped they would have set aside partisanship. “That was not the decision they made,” he said. “From the moment I took office what we’ve seen is a constant ideological push-back against any kind of sensible reforms that would make our economy work better and give people more opportunity.”
After his speech, the president took questions in a session closed to the media.
He then headed to the Paramount for his second fundraiser, which drew more than 1,750 people. The price of admission was more modest — ranging from $100 for balcony seats to $7,500 for VIP seating and a receiving-line photo with the president. The event included a lunch catered by chef Tom Douglas and a performance by the Robert Cray Band.
Outside, as hundreds lined up to enter, they were joined by demonstrators, gawkers and well-wishers.
Many of the protesters were against a proposed pipeline that would carry oil from Canada’s tar fields to Texas refineries. One group held signs urging support to free Jason Puracal, the Tacoma native sentenced last week to 22 years in prison in Nicaragua.
Robby Stern, president of the Puget Sound Alliance for Retired Americans, led a group of about 100 people from various organizations, including the state Labor Council. Among their concerns was protecting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
“He needs to go forth,” Stern said of Obama. “He needs to do better.”
Inside the theater, Obama was introduced by NBA legend Bill Russell and former Sonics coach Lenny Wilkens before taking to the stage, decorated with six American flags and a row of ferns.
Obama sought to remind the crowd of his accomplishments, including the recent repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays serving openly in the military — which drew one of the loudest ovations of the afternoon.
Yet Obama acknowledged the discouragement felt by some Democrats and tried to rally the crowd to the jubilant feelings they had during his 2008 victory.
“I need you guys to shake off any doldrums. I need you to decide right here and right now. Talk to your friends and neighbors and co-workers and tell them, you know what? We’re not finished,” he said.
The crowd applauded, and a woman shouted out, “We got you.”
In a statement issued Sunday, the Republican National Committee (RNC) blasted the president as failing to create the jobs in Washington state that he had promised from the economic-stimulus package passed by Congress in 2009.
“Instead of addressing job creation for Washington, President Obama seems to only be interested in using the state as an ATM for his campaign coffers,” RNC spokesman Ryan Mahoney said.
Some who were inside the Paramount said they were inspired by Obama’s talk on jobs and the upcoming re-election campaign.
“He’s so charismatic. And he has a way of instilling hope in people,” said Alyson Redding, of Seattle.
Wrapping up his Seattle visit, Obama returned to Boeing Field and departed on Air Force One, bound for more fundraisers — two in the San Francisco area on Sunday evening, followed by one in San Diego Monday and two in Los Angeles.
Seattle Times reporters Brian M. Rosenthal, Jeff Hodson and Keith Ervin contributed to this story, which also includes material from The Associated Press.