A lightning-quick visit by President Clinton on Saturday fattened the campaign coffers of Sen. Patty Murray and other Democratic stalwarts by $700,000.
Heavily Democratic Seattle has been a favorite of Clinton’s throughout his national political career, and he has drawn some of his biggest campaign crowds and contributions here. Now that he’s run his last race, he’s helping retire a huge Democratic National Committee debt and elect Democrats to Congress.
The president’s latest stopover began with the touchdown of Air Force One at Boeing Field shortly after 5 p.m.
The prime beneficiary was Murray, a first-term senator and one of Clinton’s most reliable allies. She faces a tough re-election campaign next year, with both parties calling her one of the nation’s most vulnerable incumbents.
Supporters at a $250-a-person reception in the Seattle Center said the visit would help Murray in more ways than just financially.
“The president is very, very popular with women - the people you meet in the grocery store or the doctor’s office. They think he really cares, and this association will really help Patty,” said Nancyhelen Fisher, state head of the Women’s Political Caucus.
“It’s going to be a tough race, and I think she knows it,” said state Rep. Val Ogden, D-Vancouver. “It’s very important that the president of the United States is by her side saying, ‘I need to have this woman in the Senate.’ That’s a wonderful testimonial.”
On this trip, Clinton’s ninth to the Pacific Northwest as president, Seattle was a way station en route to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vancouver, British Columbia.
After flying in from fund-raising chores for the DNC in Denver, the president spent nearly two hours at a $5,000-a-plate salmon dinner in a private home in the upscale suburb of Medina before the larger reception in Seattle.
Most of the money raised on his visit was at the dinner.
Clinton, who declined an offer of an umbrella during a rain-soaked late-afternoon rally at the Pike Place Market in September 1996, seemed content to have one over his head when he arrived in a colder evening rain at Boeing Field.
After a brief greeting ceremony, he was taken by motorcade first to an unannounced stop at the Museum of Flight and then to the dinner, where guests included Microsoft Corp. founder and chairman Bill Gates.
Both fund-raising events were targeted by environmental activists who want the Clinton administration to support a global-warming treaty at an upcoming international conference in Japan.
The stop reflects the Democratic National Committee’s heavy reliance on the president as a star attraction at lunches, dinners and receptions with donors who can help erase a $14.2 million debt. With Clinton’s approval, the party has just lifted its self-imposed $100,000 limit on donations.
Besides Murray, the state Democratic Party and the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee also will get some of the money raised on the president’s visit, state party chairman Paul Berendt said.
The host at the dinner, Laurie McDonald Jonsson, is one of the party’s top donors, giving or pledging nearly $400,000 in the past two years. She is active on children’s issues, the Women’s Leadership Forum of the DNC and Gov. Gary Locke’s Executive Women’s Council.
The reception, expected to draw five times as many donors as the pricey dinner, was set for the Seattle Center Pavilion later Saturday evening. Clinton planned a late-evening departure.
Gore tentatively plans to come to Seattle on Dec. 16 to attend an anti-smoking forum for young people and a fund-raiser for the national party.
Murray has no challenger for the Democratic nomination so far. Two Republicans, U.S. Rep. Linda Smith of Vancouver and Pierce County Executive Doug Sutherland of Tacoma, are competing for the GOP nod. The primary is next September and the general election two months later.
The Senate race is the biggest on the ballot next year and is being eyed closely by Democrats like Brian Baird, who is running for Smith’s 3rd District House seat after nearly ousting her a year ago.