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Wednesday, May 26, 2004 - Page updated at 10:42 A.M.

Kerry's dinner: a feast in fund raising

By David Postman
Times chief political reporter

PAULA BRONSTEIN / GETTY IMAGES
U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., discusses energy and economic issues yesterday with Portland residents before continuing on to Seattle in a new campaign plane he started using yesterday.
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John Kerry may not have been Seattle Democrats' first choice to be the party's presidential nominee. But tonight, many will show they're now on board by writing big checks at what organizers say could be the most lucrative single political fund-raiser ever in the city.

It's estimated that Kerry and the Democratic National Committee will collect more than $2 million at the Westin Hotel dinner, said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., co-chairwoman of Kerry's campaign in the state.

She has spent five weeks soliciting donations for tickets that go for a minimum of $1,000 per person. The 1,250 tickets were sold out by yesterday afternoon.

"If you can raise $2 million in five weeks in Seattle for this guy, it's because America thirsts for what he has to say," Cantwell said.

She said she doesn't know of any previous Democratic function in the area that would have raised that much money in one sitting.

Public appearance this morning


John Kerry will appear this morning at Pier 62 in Seattle to discuss his energy policy. Doors open at 9 a.m. for the free session that's open to the public.

When President Bush was in the state last fall, Republicans raised between $1.4 million and $1.7 million for him at a fund-raiser at the home of telecommunications mogul Craig McCaw. A state Republican Party official said yesterday that was the most anyone can remember being raised at a single event in the state.

Contributions at tonight's event will go to the Kerry campaign up to the federal limit of $2,000 per individual; additional donations will go to the Democratic National Committee.

Kerry backers hope the Westin dinner and other events during Kerry's Seattle stay this week not only help finance his race against Bush but send a clear message that Seattle is over its infatuation with Howard Dean and now is firmly behind Kerry.

Cantwell also said that big-name high-tech executives who are scheduled to attend will help dispel any notion that Bush dominates in the race for the industry's money. Until recently, Bush has gotten much more high-tech money than Kerry and last week was endorsed by a group of executives and entrepreneurs at a Seattle event.

Among co-hosts of the Kerry dinner are Microsoft Group Vice President Jeff Raikes, software pioneer Paul Brainerd and veteran technology executive Mike Slade.

While Dean was in the race for the Democratic nomination, he dominated fund raising in Washington state and drew the biggest crowds of his insurgent campaign here.

"At that point in time, Dean had the brand; he was against the war," Cantwell said. "And the brand Kerry now has is, he's the nominee and people are enthusiastic about making a change and enthusiastic about him."

Even Congressman Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, is on board. McDermott, the most liberal member of the state's congressional delegation, was a leading Dean supporter.

Last night, though, he headlined a fund-raiser for Kerry at Ballard's Tractor Tavern. It was a far more low-key, low-budget and Ballard-like event than tonight's soiree. The band Big Spoon played and tickets were $30.

A couple of hundred people filled the tavern. "This is the most important election in your lives," McDermott told the mostly young crowd. He was cheered as he attacked Bush for rolling back environmental laws and favoring businesses and the Iraq war.

"If we don't stop him now, there will be damn little left of what we think of as the American dream," McDermott said.

"I think he's worked hard at trying to unite the party," McDermott said of Kerry. "I don't remember Al Gore going to talk to Ralph Nader. He's reaching out in a way that makes sense to people like me."

The two-day Seattle swing is Kerry's first visit here since becoming the presumptive nominee.

He was scheduled to arrive in Seattle from Portland last night. He talks about energy policy this morning at a public event on the Seattle waterfront, spends at least part of the day taking personal time to celebrate his wedding anniversary with his wife, then attends the Westin fund-raiser.

Before leaving tomorrow morning, he's scheduled to give a speech about national security to an invitation-only gathering.

The Tractor party grew out of a loosely organized, quintessential Seattle group that formed last year. Jason Gruber, an AOL director, and a half-dozen friends began meeting to talk about politics, the campaign and their unhappiness with Bush.

They held a fund-raiser last summer to celebrate Gruber's 34th birthday, asking people to donate to the Democratic National Committee in lieu of gifts.

About 50 people showed up, and a straw poll found that very few had ever donated to a political campaign.

"But we found with these $25, $50, $100 donations, it sort of inspires people to make an investment in the political process," Gruber said.

"The missing element was we didn't have a candidate," he said. The group — "in some ways 'organization' is too strong a word," he said — waited until Kerry emerged as the obvious nominee.

Gruber said that particularly with tech-savvy young people, making political donations has gotten easier with Internet fund raising and has become more accepted behavior.

"I think that there's an element to progressive people and Democratic people that it is going to take some level of personal sacrifice to elect a candidate who they like, who represents more of their beliefs — and I'm being clear here: not all of their beliefs.

"But they see that making a financial sacrifice is a step in the right direction."

David Postman: 360-236-8267 or dpostman@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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