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Originally published Monday, October 25, 2010 at 9:31 PM

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First lady gives Murray a boost

First lady Michelle Obama's two Eastside fundraisers for U.S. Sen. Patty Murray on Monday capped a remarkable run of top-name Democrats...

Seattle Times staff reporter

First lady Michelle Obama's two Eastside fundraisers for U.S. Sen. Patty Murray on Monday capped a remarkable run of top-name Democrats coming to aid the state's senior senator.

Obama, joined by the vice president's wife, Jill Biden, arrived within days of separate visits by former President Clinton and President Obama, illustrating Murray's clout among Democratic elites and their anxiety about Murray's neck-and-neck race with Republican Dino Rossi.

Michelle Obama asked the 1,400 people jammed into a cavernous banquet hall at the Bellevue Hyatt to "lace up" for a final push to Election Day.

"You see, the one thing I asked all of you over the course of the campaign, I said, 'If I'm giving you my husband, then you have to have his back,' " she told the crowd that paid $75 to $175 each. "He needs leaders like Patty to have his back. And Patty needs folks like all of you to make that happen."

After the fundraiser, Obama zipped to the Medina mansion of Costco co-founder Jeff Brotman for a second fundraiser, which was closed to the press. The 100 people there paid up to $7,500 each.

Murray, an 18-year incumbent who ranks fourth in leadership among Senate Democrats, has a razor-thin lead over Rossi, according to an analysis of polls by The New York Times' Fivethirtyeight blog.

On a conference call with reporters on Monday, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., criticized Murray's prolific use of earmarks and cited a recent Seattle Times story that reported on $20 million in earmarks awarded to firms who had hired Murray's former staffers as lobbyists.

The frequent visits by prominent Democrats "show they see that she is in trouble," Rossi said Monday in a separate conference call. "We are in a position to win this race."

At the Hyatt fundraiser, the crowd of mostly women waited in a long line that snaked through the hotel's winter garden nearly two hours before the event. Rondi Gangnes said she brought her 13-year-old daughter, Libby, to see the first lady because she is "the embodiment of the American dream."

"Her father was a postal worker and she graduated from Harvard Law School," said Gangnes. "She's incredibly impressive to juggle the job of first mother, first lady, instilling the values of hard work and family."

After Gov. Chris Gregoire warmed up the crowd with now-familiar critiques of Rossi, Murray touted her votes for financial and health-care overhauls and the anti-gender discrimination Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

"This state is my family, and like any mom, when my family is hurting, I get to work with all the energy I have to make things right again," Murray said.

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Michelle Obama remains the most popular figure in the White House, and she displayed her ability to connect with audiences in a 30-minute speech.

She avoided the red-meat partisan attacks her husband has deployed this election season and defended his record of landmark domestic-policy changes. She acknowledged the country was anxious amid the recession and counseled for patience.

"Many of us came into this expecting all that change we talked about happening all at once, right away, the moment Barack walked through the Oval Office door," Obama said.

"The truth is, it is going to take us a lot longer to dig ourselves out of this hole than any of us would like. The truth is, this is the hard part of change."

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

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