News Column

Obama Makes Timely Campaign Stop In Gay-rights Fight

May 11, 2012

Jim Brunner and Emily Heffter

A day after endorsing gay marriage in a national television interview, President Obama took sides in Washington's likely vote on gay marriage this fall, telling a cheering crowd at a downtown Seattle fundraiser they'll have a chance to make sure "that everybody, regardless of sexual orientation, is treated fairly."

Obama spoke at a pair of political fundraisers in Seattle on Thursday before jetting off to a star-studded event later in the evening at the California home of actor George Clooney.

Though he'd landed in basically friendly territory on the gay-rights issue from the time Air Force One touched down at Boeing Field before noon, Obama did not make same-sex marriage a central theme of his speeches. Instead, he largely delivered a standard stump speech touting his efforts to continue investments in education, science and infrastructure, and deriding what he called Republicans' "narrow vision" of tax cuts for the wealthy.

The president did not mention gay marriage at all during his opening remarks to a ritzy $35,800-per-couple fundraiser at a Seattle developer's waterfront home. In a larger event later at the Paramount Theatre, Obama referred to Washington state's looming gay-marriage fight late in his speech, and without actually mentioning the word marriage.

"We are moving forward to a country where every American is treated with dignity and with respect, and here in Washington you'll have the chance to make your voice heard on the issue of making sure that everybody, regardless of sexual orientation, is treated fairly," Obama said. "You'll have a chance to weigh in on this. We are a nation that treats people fairly."

The crowd of about 2,000 supporters, who'd paid between $100 and $5,000 to attend, stood and loudly cheered the comments.

Opponents of Washington state's new law allowing same-sex marriage said this week they have more than half of the signatures they need to qualify for the November ballot a proposed referendum seeking to overturn the measure. Backers of Referendum 74 need 120,577 valid voter signatures by June 6.

Mostly, Obama focused on America's domestic economic problems. He began the Paramount Theatre speech in an almost apologetic tone, acknowledging the work left to be done to improve the economy. He reminded the audience how bad the economy was when he took office, saying, "sometimes people forget the magnitude of it ... . Sometimes I forget."

"We're making progress. Are we satisfied? Of course not," Obama said.

Portraying Republican rival Mitt Romney as an out-of-touch millionaire, Obama drew snickers from the crowd when he praised his opponent for the "great personal success he's had as the CEO of a large financial firm." He contended Romney's success taught him "the wrong lessons. He actually believes that if CEOs and the wealthiest investors like him get rich, that the rest of us automatically do, too."

He warned that Romney's economic plans would "ask Americans to pay" for tax cuts for the wealthy, instead of using that money to pay down debt or lower the cost of college.

"I'm not gonna allow Medicare to be turned into a voucher," he said. "We can't afford to spend the next four years going backwards."

Repeating a constant theme of his re-election campaign, Obama said Romney and Republicans are merely offering rehashed ideas that led to the ongoing financial crisis. "They're not offering a new set of ideas. Everybody knows that."

GOP fights back

Republicans, meanwhile, attacked Obama for what they called his West Coast "Magical Misery Tour."

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, who chairs Romney's Washington campaign, blamed Obama for the country's continuing high unemployment and foreclosures.

"No, we don't blame Obama for the problems he inherited. We blame him for his failure to get the country back on track," McMorris Rodgers wrote in an op-ed published Thursday in The News Tribune of Tacoma. She touted Romney's abilities as a businessman, noting he "has turned around troubled enterprises before."

Obama's earlier fundraiser took place at the waterfront home of Ann and Bruce Blume, a 10,000-square-foot, four-bedroom, 11-bathroom waterfront house on Lake Washington. The property, which was formerly owned by the Canadian government, is assessed at $17.5 million and features a pool, cabana -- and this being Seattle, a chicken coop.

The Blumes are major Democratic donors, who have given more than $118,000 to federal Democratic candidates and committees since 2008, according to campaign-finance data maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics. They also gave $50,000 to help finance Obama's inauguration party.

As the presidential motorcade wended its way through Montlake and along Lake Washington Boulevard, the streets were lined with well-wishers and gawkers taking photos and hoping for a glimpse of Obama. Near the Blume home, a woman with an infant held a sign: "Thank you Mr. President for standing up for my Mommys!"

Inside, Obama spoke for about 10 minutes to the room of wealthy donors, saying no one got rich by themselves. When it comes to Internet companies, for example, Obama said taxpayers had invested in the technology that helped create the Internet, "so there's no Facebook, there's no Microsoft, there's no Google if we hadn't made this common investment in our future."

The president continued with a question-and-answer session with the group of 70 or so, from which the media was barred.

Obama's pair of Seattle fundraisers were expected to bring in at least $3 million for his re-election effort.

But that was a pittance compared with the expected haul from his California event, where the president headed after departing Boeing Field at about 4 p.m.

That fundraiser was held at Clooney's residence in the Los Angeles' Studio City neighborhood. The dinner, heavily promoted online by the Obama campaign, was expected to net close to $15 million -- an unprecedented amount for a single event.

It meant that in one single evening the Obama camp and the Democratic Party were expected to collect more than Romney has amassed in his best single month of fundraising.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



Source: (c)2012 The Seattle Times


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