SEATTLE – Barack Obama acknowledged he hasn’t been a perfect president as he asked some 2,000 supporters to consider a different question than the standard “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”
The question he wants to frame the election: “Will we be better off if we keep moving forward?”
In a half-hour speech regularly interrupted by the supportive audience, Obama sought to paint Republicans as the group that wants to go back to policies that didn’t work in the last decade and Democrats as the party trying to move forward.
Some of the loudest cheers came whenever he mentioned anything involving gay rights. He worked the theme into his speech several times, one day after he said he personally supports the right of same-sex couples to marry, although the issue should be decided by each state.
“If you’re willing to work hard, you should be able to find a job … give your kids a chance to do better … no matter what your last name is, where you come from … no matter who you love,” he said.
Seattle was Obama’s first campaign stop after giving ABC News an interview Wednesday in which he said he changed his position on same-sex marriage and now personally supports it. He arrived shortly before noon at Boeing Field, where he was greeted by Gov. Chris Gregoire and other Democratic leaders, then whisked by motorcade to a neighborhood overlooking Lake Washington for a $17,900-per-ticket fundraiser at a private home attended by about 70 people.
Reports filed with the Federal Election Commission show that Washington is one of the most lucrative states in which Obama could seek campaign money. He’s raised some $3.5 million in the state so far, the 10th highest total in the country.
The press pool report filed by the Seattle Times’ Jim Brunner noted that as the motorcade arrived at that event, a woman with an infant held a sign saying “Thank you Mr. President for standing up for my Mommys.”
He didn’t mention gay marriage in that speech – it was standard campaign fare about improving the economy and opportunities for all Americans.
Outside the Paramount Theatre in downtown Seattle, the crowd that welcomed the motorcade included gay rights activists with rainbow flags, shirts and a rainbow feather boa.
A pair of Democratic activists, Mary Beth Brotski and Teri McClain, wore sandwich signs that said, “Thanks for Evolving on Same Sex Marriage,” with a picture of a chimpanzee on one side and Obama on the other.
McClain, who said she tries to attend every Obama appearance in the Seattle area, created the signs Thursday morning. The response was mostly positive, although one person did criticize her choice to picture Obama and a chimp.
“I didn’t have time to draw the whole evolutionary chart,” she said.
Neither were surprised by his announcement. “I think it was inevitable,” Brotski said.
“It’s time,” McClain said. “He’s all about change.
Inside the theater, a crowd estimated by fire officials as 2,000, who paid up to $1,000 per ticket, heard a concert by Dave Matthews, then warm-up speeches from Washington politicians like Sen. Patty Murray. Obama then took the stage to defend his first term and take swipes at GOP nominee-in-waiting, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
While he complimented Romney for raising a wonderful family and achieving business success, Obama suggested the former CEO was misinterpreting the economy.
“The problem isn’t that the American people aren’t working hard enough. It’s that their harder work isn’t leading to higher incomes,” he said.
Romney and other Republicans are proposing economic policies that were tried by his predecessor and failed, Obama insisted. “We remember. We’re not going back there, we’re moving this country forward.”
Support for a free market only takes the country so far, he added, and government sometimes has to get involved, whether it’s building big hydroelectric dams or the Golden Gate Bridge or creating the Internet that allowed companies like Microsoft and Google to thrive, he said.
“No Americans are fighting in Iraq. Osama bin Laden is no longer a threat. By 2014, the war in Afghanistan will be over,” he said. When that happens, Obama wants to take half of the money now spent on the war to reduce the deficit and spend the other half on research, education and infrastructure.
“We don’t need another political fight about a woman’s right to choose,” he said. “We’re not going to turn back the clock … to where you could be kicked out of the United States military because of who you are and who you love.”
The election will be close, he predicted, closer than in 2008. He expects to be hit by ads that portray Americans as “down and out” and not working. But “it’s still about hope, it’s still about change” he said.