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Originally published Thursday, September 25, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Cindy McCain, Todd Palin draw 250 to Hunts Point

Cindy McCain, along with Alaska's "first dude" Todd Palin, was in King County Wednesday for a private $1,000-per-person fundraiser at a home in Hunts Point. McCain and Palin came to the right place: King County ranks fifth in the nation when it comes to counties giving the most to this year's presidential candidates.

Seattle Times staff reporters

Cindy McCain was in King County Wednesday for a private $1,000-per person fundraiser at a home in Hunts Point, along with Alaska's "first dude" Todd Palin.

McCain and Palin came to the right place — King County ranks fifth in the nation when it comes to counties giving the most to this year's presidential candidates. It trails only counties encompassing Manhattan, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C., in campaign contributions, according to an MSNBC.com analysis of federal election records.

About 250 people attended Wednesday's lunchtime event at the home of Barney Ebsworth, said Chris Fidler, co-chairman of the McCain campaign's steering committee in Washington state. Donors gave almost $1 million, Fidler said. "It was $850,000 at last count, and they were still counting," he said.

Because Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, is accepting public financing, he can no longer raise money directly for his campaign. Instead, his campaign raises money for various GOP committees that can benefit him.

But the McCain-Palin visit appears to be too little, too late for McCain's fundraising to match that of Sen. Barack Obama's in Washington state.

Obama, the Democratic Party's nominee, has clobbered McCain in collecting money here, receiving $9 million to McCain's $2.1 million from Washington residents through August, according to federal campaign records.

It's no surprise Obama is ahead of McCain in a state that's voted Democratic in the past five presidential contests.

McCain's maverick image was supposed to appeal to Washington Republicans and some independents. But he's raised less money in the Evergreen state than George W. Bush, who collected $3.2 million here in the 2004 election, the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics reports.

Obama has even bested McCain by big margins in Republican-friendly areas such as Mercer Island and Bellevue. The only major metro area where McCain is competitive is Tacoma, where he trails Obama by $38,000.

In King County, Obama had raised $6.3 million to McCain's $956,000 through August.

McCain leads Obama in fundraising in just seven of Washington's 39 counties: Yakima, Grant, Franklin, Asotin, Lincoln, Adams and Garfield.

Microsoft employees are Obama's biggest donor in state. He's collected $377,235 from them to McCain's $42,255, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates hasn't contributed to a presidential candidate, nor has CEO Steve Ballmer. Paul Allen, Microsoft's other founder, contributed to primary contender Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, but hasn't sent money to McCain or Obama.

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McCain and Todd Palin tried to make up ground at Wednesday's event, which lasted about 90 minutes. McCain spoke for about 15 minutes and Palin for about 10 minutes, Fidler said, before they "worked the crowd" one-on-one.

In her speech, Fidler said McCain "provided us with a wife's insight to the authenticity of John McCain's character and ability to lead the nation as president."

Palin drew applause when he said he had no idea his wife's involvement in the PTA years ago would lead to a vice-presidential candidacy, Fidler said.

Just after the event, Sen. McCain announced he was suspending campaigning to deal with the nation's financial crisis, and his wife headed back to Washington, D.C., according to McCain spokesman Rick Gorka.

As for McCain's fundraising disadvantage in Washington state, Gorka said "the pressure is on Obama because he has to continually raise record amounts every month to make up for not accepting public financing, which he originally said he would accept."

Fidler said McCain's fundraising would look much better compared to Obama's if contributions to Republican committees that collect money for all GOP federal candidates were considered.

Obama spokesman Josh Field said the Democratic candidate's edge in Washington is an example of broad support. "Nationally we have 2.5 million that have given to the campaign and 500,000 new contributors just in August. It shows how hungry Americans are for change," he said.

Bob Young: 206-464-2174

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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