As President Bush paid a fundraising visit to Bellevue on August 27, three telling scenes unfolded. The first, and the most closely watched, took place inside the Bellevue Hyatt, where Bush was the big draw for a $1,000-a-plate (and $10,000-a-photo-with-the-president) event designed to fill up the campaign coffers of Republican Congressman Dave Reichert.
Most significant about this fundraiser was the fact that Reichert allowed it to happen at all. After being attacked repeatedly in his 2004 reelection race for his support of the president's unpopular Iraq war strategy, Reichert could have declined the Bush visit, scored some political points in a moderate district that he won by only 3 percent last November, and helped out his own long-running efforts to cast himself as an independent thinker.
Instead, he hugged Bush at the fundraiser, posed for yet another picture with the president (adding to the Democratic stash of Bush-Reichert photos that's sure to get lots of airtime next fall), and allowed the man with the 32 percent approval rating to describe him as the right guy for the job.
"He's tough when he needs to be, compassionate when he needs to be," Bush said, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Why risk being praised and financially supported by the same president who a lot of up-for-election congressional Republicans are trying to distance themselves from this year? Reichert seems to have concluded that in the long run, the money matters more than the moment itself.
The Bellevue fundraiser reportedly took in between $250,000 and $500,000. If the past is any guide, some of that cash will go to the state Republican Party, some will be used to cover the cost of the event itself, and the rest will be used by Reichert to buy lots of airtime next fall—airtime that will be filled with campaign commercials designed to cultivate his image as an independent, while ignoring the Bellevue event and his indebtedness to Bush.
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A few blocks away from the Bush-Reichert event, liberal blogger David Goldstein was in a conference room at the Bellevue Westin watching some political counterprogramming by Democrat Darcy Burner and doing a few money calculations of his own.
Burner, who is trying for a second run against Reichert, was sitting on a low dais with a panel of Iraq experts, speaking about the problems of Bush's war strategy for a webcast "Town Hall Meeting." As Burner discussed the need for a "responsible exit plan for Iraq," Goldstein did some math. Taking the low estimate of Reichert's haul from the Bush fundraiser ($250,000), and subtracting the state party's cut and the cost of putting on the event, he figured Reichert's campaign might net around $100,000. That, Goldstein pointed out gleefully, was about the same amount that Burner had raised through a counterfundraiser she'd launched with the help of some of the nation's top liberal bloggers.
Goldstein called the response from the liberal blogosphere "unprecedented." Burner spokesman Sandeep Kaushik told me, "We're very pleased." While the Reichert event in Bellevue reportedly drew about 300 people, Burner's online appeal drew over 3,000 contributors from around the country who had given a total of $122,000 as of August 28.
Burner's online haul offered a telling indicator of which liberal blogs currently have the most money clout. By Goldstein's calculations, links from the hugely popular blog DailyKos led to around $40,000 in donations to Burner—the most of any blog participating in her fundraiser. The blog Eschaton was second, delivering about $25,000. And Goldstein's blog, HorsesAss, was fifth, bringing in about $5,000.
The counterfundraiser also served as another body check to Burner's opponent in the Democratic primary, state senator Rodney Tom. While Burner was raking in the online donations, at one point at a rate of $100 a minute, Tom was reduced to joining the protest outside the Bush event—nice symbolism, perhaps, but not very lucrative.
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Those Bush protesters, who numbered in the hundreds on a warm Monday afternoon, created the last important scene from the president's visit. As Bush's motorcade whisked him into the Hyatt, the demonstrators held aloft signs celebrating the resignation that morning of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and called for the heads of Dick Cheney and Bush next. The dominant theme of the protest, however, was fury at the continuing cost of the Iraq war—a reminder to both Reichert and Burner, as if they needed another, that the coming campaign, like the last one, is probably going to revolve largely around a single, volatile issue that is unlikely to be resolved to anyone's satisfaction by next November.