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Saturday, June 17, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Here for swanky fundraiser, Bush speaks from the heart

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

President Bush made a brief but busy stop to the Seattle area Friday, greeting party leaders and military families before zooming past a group of protesters and finally regaling a crowd of well-heeled donors with tales about life in the Oval Office.

The heart of Bush's visit was a political fundraiser under white tents at Microsoft executive Peter Neupert's estate in Medina. About 400 people snacked on lemon cakes and cantaloupe before listening to a 45-minute talk from the president, with references to Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and the Iraq War.

Bush told the donors of an encounter in the White House with Iraqi businessmen whose hands had been severed by members of Saddam Hussein's regime. Searching for words, the president told the men that the new democratic government in Iraq would bring them stability and fairness like they had never known.

"He speaks much better than what you see on TV," said Patricia Lessard of Seattle, who attended the fundraiser. "He's very charming and engaging."

About 40 or 50 donors shelled out $10,000 for a photograph with the president taken in Neupert's home, attendees estimated. Everyone else paid $1,000 to attend.

The event raised about $800,000, which will be split evenly between Rep. Dave Reichert's re-election campaign and the state party's get-out-the-vote effort.

Among those in attendance were former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, former state Sen. Dino Rossi, Attorney General Rob McKenna and Bellevue developers Kemper Freeman and Bob Wallace.

A few of the president's moments during his visit were more personal.

Norma McQuiller, a volunteer mentor with Communities in Schools of Renton, was on the tarmac at Boeing Field to receive the President's Volunteer Service Award from Bush.

Spc. Dylan Sheaffer, an Issaquah soldier whose two brothers also serve in the military, and his parents, James and Sheryl Sheaffer, also greeted the president.

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"I finally got to meet my sons' boss," Sheryl Sheaffer said. "It was very thrilling."

About 90 protesters gathered at an intersection in Medina along the path of the president's motorcade. Some of them had marched from a separate rally at Downtown Park in Bellevue, which attracted about 125 people.

The all-ages crowd in Medina held hand-painted signs and told jokes about Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney while they waited for the motorcade to arrive.

When Bush's limo finally drove past, the protesters chanted, "Drive out the Bush regime. The world can't wait!"

The state Democratic Party organized a rally at Westlake Park in downtown Seattle to denounce Bush and cheer Darcy Burner, Reichert's opponent in the 8th Congressional District. A few hundred people heard party leaders describe Reichert as a rubber stamp for the Bush administration.

"I am going to stop George Bush," Burner told the crowd. "I am going to defeat Dave Reichert in November because he will never stop George Bush."

Reichert arrived at Boeing Field aboard Air Force One and emerged from the plane with the president. Reichert later told reporters that Bush's visit was exciting. "We respect the office, and he came here for me," he said.

But Reichert quickly pointed out that he has made several votes that went against the president, including opposing a bill that allowed court intervention in the last days of Terri Schiavo, a brain-damaged Florida woman who died in March 2005.

"I'm my own man," Reichert said. "He's his own man."

Bush departed about 1 p.m. on his way to a congressional fundraiser in New Mexico.

Just before he flew out, Bush bypassed a waiting limousine and walked along the tarmac to Air Force One. Rain began to fall in sheets, soaking the president as he continued to wave to well-wishers.

Seattle Times staff reporters Jim Brunner, Alex Fryer, Susan Gilmore and Nathan Hurst, and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Ashley Bach: 206-464-2567 or abach@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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