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Thursday, August 31, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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First lady stumps for McGavick in state

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

The popular White House resident swooped into town Wednesday.

First lady Laura Bush stumped for Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Mike McGavick in Bellevue, speaking to about 500 supporters.

While her husband's approval ratings hang at 40 percent nationally, the first lady's ratings are nearly twice as high. Republican leaders and political analysts say she is a star campaigner important to this fall's congressional races.

"There's no better fundraiser, booster of candidates and promoter of the agenda anywhere than Laura Bush," Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman said. "She's incredibly effective."

Still, state Democrats said the first lady's visit Wednesday will further connect McGavick to an unpopular president.

"The last thing Washington can afford is another loyal rubber stamp for President Bush, like Mike McGavick," said Kelly Steele, spokesman for the state Democratic Party.

In a 10-minute address at Bellevue's Westin Hotel, Bush said McGavick would bring "cooperation and civility" to the Senate from his stint as chief of staff to former Sen. Slade Gorton.

His time as CEO of Safeco gave him "principles of efficiency and accountability" that will translate well in Washington, D.C., she said.

McGavick cares about young people and families, Bush said, and "will be a champion of the men and women of the United States military," a line that drew heavy applause.

Bush's speech raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for McGavick's campaign this fall against Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell. Each attendee paid either $250 to get in, $1,000 for better seats or $2,500 for a photo with the first lady.

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McGavick campaign officials did not provide an exact fundraising figure, but the money will be split between the campaign and the state Republican Party's get-out-the-vote effort.

Bush flew to Kennewick later in the day for another McGavick fundraiser and then was to travel to Montana to campaign for Republican Sen. Conrad Burns.

The first lady and President Bush are on the road this summer, raising money in an effort to keep Republican control of Congress. The president came to Medina in June, raising money for U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert's re-election campaign and the state party.

Laura Bush's visit Wednesday for McGavick demonstrates the importance of his challenge to Cantwell "and how much across the country people are taking an interest in it," said McGavick spokesman Elliott Bundy.

Among those at the breakfast event were state Attorney General Rob McKenna and Reichert, who both spoke; former U.S. Rep. Jennifer Dunn; Gorton; and former state Sen. Dino Rossi.

About 25 protesters held signs outside the hotel, with slogans like "Mike (Heart) Layoffs" and "I Don't Like Mike."

Protester Matt Martorella of Kirkland said McGavick's views are in lock step with the president and the candidate "worships money."

"I don't think he's the right person for the job, that's for sure," Martorella said.

After her speech, the first lady mingled with the crowd for about 15 minutes as some people stood on their chairs to snap photos.

Jane Sacia, a retired speech therapist from Issaquah, said she loved Bush's speech, especially when she spoke about her commitment to education.

"She's a gracious and wonderful woman," Sacia said.

Information from The Dallas Morning News was included in this report.

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

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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