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Obama's Seattle Visit Mixes Official Business, Politics

Deborah Wang

President Barack Obama continues his five–state campaign swing in California today. Yesterday, he was in Seattle stumping for Senator Patty Murray, who is locked in a tight re–election battle. Obama spoke to a capacity crowd at the University of Washington. Before that he appeared at his only official White House function, a backyard chat at a home in northeast Seattle. But there was plenty of politics sprinkled into that event as well.


The home the White House chose was a tidy two–story house in Seattle's Wedgwood neighborhood. Halloween decorations adorned the front lawn. An unusual number of police and men in dark suits had been spotted in the neighborhood in recent days. But many neighbors didn't know about the president's visit until they woke up Thursday morning to see their streets blocked off. Laurie Walpole lives a few houses away.

Walpole: "It's exciting, I mean, and I, I do not support Patty Murray. I support Dino Rossi, but I'm so excited about the president coming!"

When the president arrived at the house, a few minutes late, about 40 people were waiting for him in the backyard. Most were asked to bring their own chairs, so they sat in a motley, mismatched selection. And even though it was official White House business, the first person the president acknowledged after thanking his hosts was the state's Senior Senator, the woman for whom he has come to campaign.

Mr. Obama: "I want to make sure that everyone has had a chance to meet your outstanding Senator Patty Murray, who's here."

The official theme of this backyard chat was women and the economy. The White House had just issued a new report showing that women now make up close to half the workforce, and women are either the breadwinner or co–breadwinner in two–thirds of American households.

Mr. Obama called on two women business owners to talk about how government loans and grants helped them expand their businesses. But he spent more time detailing what his administration has done to bring about the recovery. The economy was shrinking 6 percent a year when I took office, he said, now we've got nine months of private sector job growth.

He acknowledged the White House hasn't done a good enough job advertising all that it has done. Case in point: health care reform. He says people are being swayed by all the negative messages being put out by opponents.

Mr. Obama: "Tens of millions of dollars in every media market that is just constantly sending out negative ads, not really specifying what it is exactly about the health care bill that they don't like, other than just sort of a knee jerk assertion that it's just socialized medicine or it's a government takeover. And you know that, obviously, in the short term can have a negative impact on people's opinions."

The president also made frequent mentions of the work being done by Senator Patty Murray. She sat just behind him, in clear view of the cameras. Scott Horsley is a White House correspondent for NPR News. He's covered many of President Obama's backyard chats, and he says it's not unusual for him to combine official events with politics.

Horsley: "There's always an interest on the part of the president in mixing quote–unquote official business with political business because that means the cost of the trip and the cost of the travel can be charged to the taxpayers as opposed to necessarily a campaign budget, but I don't think it's too cynical to suggest that pretty much everything that the president does in these weeks running up to the midterm elections have at least a modicum of political intent behind them."

But for the rest of the trip, Mr. Obama will wear only one hat: campaigner. No more backyard chats are scheduled in California, just rallies and fundraisers for embattled Senator Barbara Boxer and gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown.

I'm Deborah Wang, KUOW News.

© Copyright 2010, KUOW

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