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Originally published August 16, 2010 at 9:09 PM | Page modified August 17, 2010 at 10:43 AM

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President to lower profile during visit today

President Obama returns to Seattle on Tuesday for the first time since he was merely candidate Obama to meet with small- business owners and take a quick lap around Democratic fundraising circles.

Seattle Times staff reporter

President Obama returns to Seattle on Tuesday for the first time since he was merely candidate Obama, to meet with small-business owners and take a quick lap around Democratic fundraising circles.

Unlike his previous visit — a rock-concert atmosphere at a packed KeyArena — Obama is not holding public events. The closest he'll get is his first stop, a private meeting with business owners at the Grand Central Bakery in Pioneer Square at 11:40 a.m.

The four-hour visit, which begins in late morning, is likely to snarl Interstate 5 and downtown traffic through the late afternoon. Obama also will headline two fundraisers for Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, a loyal supporter who is on the ballot in Tuesday's state primary, and for the state Democratic Party.

It's unclear how much money the events are expected to raise. Similar fundraisers by then-President George W. Bush in 2006 and 2007 raised a combined $1.3 million.

The president's scheduled business round-table, organized with the help of the Seattle-based Mainstreet Alliance, is intended to focus on the economy.

Washington's functional unemployment rate — including the underemployed and people who have quit looking for work — has nearly doubled since mid-2008, now hovering at 17.4 percent.

Obama's once-lofty approval ratings have plunged amid the prolonged recession. He remains more popular in Washington than he is nationally, but in a recent poll, nearly half of state residents said they disapproved of his administration.

"I think it's really important that he come here and see firsthand what is happening in our state so that we can talk to him about jobs and the economy," Murray said at a campaign event Monday.

Republican Dino Rossi, Murray's most prominent challenger, said Obama's visit is a sign of Murray's weakness.

"I don't think he was actually planning on coming to Washington state to help Patty Murray," Rossi said. "It shows how close the race actually is."

Obama's schedule is guarded enough that Seattle Police and the Seattle Department of Transportation could not detail which streets would be closed. Mark Jamieson, an SPD spokesman, warned of congestion on I-5 and in the "downtown core" from midmorning to late afternoon.

The business roundtable will include business owners, including Joe Fugere of the Tutta Bella pizza restaurants, who've benefitted from loans from small banks. That topic is being highlighted in part because Murray has championed a small-business lending fund which is currently held up in Congress.

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After the business roundtable, Obama is scheduled at a fundraiser at the downtown Westin. Tickets start at $500 and go up to $10,000, according to a copy of a ticket posted on Twitter. Obama is also scheduled at a $10,000-a-person fundraiser at the home of RealNetworks founder Rob Glaser.

Obama arrives in Seattle from a fundraising stop in Los Angeles, and he is scheduled to leave in late afternoon for Columbus, Ohio, as part of a five-state fundraising swing for Democrats. The fundraising tour is the most prolonged of his presidency and comes as Democrats face firm challenges from Republicans across the country.

With a tight schedule, Obama is unlikely to have time to visit the Capitol Hill site where he spent several months as an infant while his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, briefly attended the University of Washington. Dunham graduated from Mercer Island High School.

Staff reporter Jim Brunner contributed to this report. Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or jmartin@seattletimes.com

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