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Originally published October 21, 2010 at 8:44 AM | Page modified October 22, 2010 at 9:25 AM

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Obama in Seattle to recharge Democrats for Murray

President Obama stumped in Seattle on Thursday for Sen. Patty Murray, framing her re-election fight as a choice between "falling backwards and moving forwards."

Seattle Times political reporter

Striving to preserve a Democratic Senate majority, President Obama stumped in Seattle Thursday for Sen. Patty Murray, framing her re-election fight as a choice between "falling backwards and moving forwards."

During a serene backyard chat at a North Seattle home and a raucous campaign rally at the University of Washington, Obama pressed his case that Republicans had wrecked the economy and were now playing politics instead of helping him fix it.

He charged that Republicans had nothing new to offer, and would only return to Bush administration policies of tax cuts for billionaires and reduced regulations on oil companies and banks, while leaving middle-class families to fend for themselves.

"That's what they're promising — more of the same. It's not as if we didn't try it, Seattle. We tried it for eight years. It did not work and we can't afford to go back to that same agenda," he said to a crowd of 10,000 cheering supporters at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.

For their part, Republicans derided Obama's visit as another leg of "Murray's D.C. bosses tour" — referring to the stream of Democratic icons who have campaigned for her lately.

Although Obama's backyard chat was considered an official event, the state Republican Party called the entire presidential trip "a blatant abuse of taxpayer money" and said Murray's campaign should repay the government.

Obama's popularity has sagged nationally, but he remains more popular in Washington state, where he won nearly 58 percent of the vote two years ago.

The president's visit — coming as voters are casting ballots in Washington's vote-by-mail election — was aimed at firing up the Democratic base, including women and younger voters, who helped send him to the White House in 2008.

Democrats fear many of those voters won't cast ballots this year, while Republican-leaning voters are motivated to come out in droves. Washington's Senate race is crucial to Republicans' chance to regain control of Congress.

Obama urged those in the UW crowd to mail in their ballots immediately — and do more. "I need you to knock on doors, and make phone calls, and talk to your friends and talk to your neighbors," he said.

Obama arrived in Seattle Wednesday night as part of a four-day West Coast swing to raise money and campaign for embattled Democrats.

He stayed at the downtown Westin Hotel on Wednesday night, and on Thursday morning made a surprise dash to the nearby Top Pot Doughnuts, where he munched on an old-fashioned glazed.

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"You can't eat these every day," he said. "That was delicious."

After the doughnut stop, the president's motorcade zoomed north on Interstate 5 to the Wedgwood home of Erik and Cynnie Foss, where Obama held one of the "backyard chats" he's organized across the country over the spring and summer.

At the Foss home, a friendly crowd of about 40 people sat in lawn chairs on a damp lawn and served up softball questions allowing Obama to riff on the merits of his administration for an hour.

The White House promoted the chat as focusing on women and the economy, zeroing in on a key demographic for Democrats in the midterm elections.

Though acknowledging the recession has hit men even harder, Obama highlighted a new White House report detailing the recession's impact on women and touting administration policies that help them, such as an increase in small-business loans.

The chat opened with two female business owners, who praised Obama's work.

Jody Hall, owner of Cupcake Royale, said a government-backed loan had helped her open a new location and add 30 jobs in the last 18 months.

"This is a wonderful story, Jody," Obama said, noting that the Small Business Administration is three times more likely than banks to loan to women-owned businesses.

Hall said she'd brought Obama a box of salted caramel cupcakes but they'd been confiscated.

"I suspect Secret Service confiscated them and are now eating them as we speak," Obama said to laughter.

Jordan Royer, who worked for former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, asked Obama why the media hadn't refuted "distortions" about his policies, such as the health-care law. "How do we get the facts out to people?" Royer asked.

Obama called the health-care overhaul "big and complicated," and said it was understandable that people could be confused about what it does, with opponents spinning stories about "death panels." He said the law's high points, such as tax breaks to help small businesses provide health care, will become apparent to people as it is implemented.

"Once they start seeing those benefits, it's a little harder for them to argue, boy, this is a terrible thing," he said.

After the hourlong chat, Obama headlined the rally at the UW, where he and Murray were frequently interrupted by loud cheers and chants of "Yes We Can!"

Obama and Murray directly assailed her challenger, Republican Dino Rossi, who has been running neck-and-neck with her in some recent polls.

Murray called Rossi "Di-NO," citing his opposition to just about everything the Obama administration has proposed. "This election is about pushing forward. It's about putting middle-class families ahead of special interests. It's about putting Main Street ahead of Wall Street," she said.

Obama slammed Rossi for being "the first candidate in the country" to call for repeal of the Wall Street regulation overhaul he recently signed into law.

"We almost had a financial meltdown that plunged America and the world into catastrophe, and he thinks we should go back to the old rules that got us into that problem," Obama said.

This was Obama's second recent visit for Murray. He popped into town Aug. 17, the day of the primary, to raise money for her. Vice President Joseph Biden has appeared at two recent Murray rallies. Former President Clinton was in Everett on Monday. And first lady Michelle Obama is scheduled to be here next week.

In a news release, state Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser said Obama's visit should remind voters "that if they want 'more of the same' they should definitely re-elect Senator Patty Murray. ... President Obama said that he wants Senator Murray at the wheel, but thanks to her 18 years of negligent driving our country is about to go off a fiscal cliff."

After the UW rally, Obama headed for California, where he was to campaign for California Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Staff writers Jonathan Martin and Sean Walsh contributed to this story.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com

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