By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 21, 2010; 5:58 PM
SEATTLE - President Obama swooped into this traditionally Democratic corner of the country Thursday to implore the party faithful to rekindle the enthusiasm they felt in 2008 and help propel a senator locked in a surprisingly close reelection contest.
"We need you fired up," Obama told a packed crowd inside a basketball arena here at the University of Washington to rally for Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). He added: "We are grinding it out. We are doing the hard, frustrating, inch-by-inch, day-by-day, week-by-week work of bringing about change."
Obama sounded familiar themes in his Seattle speech, trumpeting what his administration and congressional Democrats did to stave off an economic depression and warning that if Republicans win control of Congress, they would return to the same economic policies that led the nation into a recession.
"They figured if they just sat on the sidelines and opposed us every step of the way, then eventually they could ride that anger and that frustration to success in this election," Obama said. "In other words, they were betting on amnesia. They were betting on the idea that you'd forget who caused this mess in the first place. Now let me tell you, Seattle: It's up to you to tell them you haven't forgotten."
Obama drew about 10,000 students and area residents to the arena here, with 3,000 more watching from a nearby stadium, in a gathering reminiscent of the huge rallies he staged during his 2008 presidential campaign. As Seattle's morning fog was lifting, the line of supporters wrapped around the university's soccer field and stretched for several blocks through campus.
Obama, visibly energized by the crowd and its sometimes deafening applause, said that if everyone who voted in 2008 shows up at the polls this fall, "we will win this election."
"If you haven't already voted for Patty Murray, let me be clear: You need to go right after this rally, fill out that ballot and mail it in today - not tomorrow, not the next day, but today," Obama added. "Let's get this done."
With the midterm elections fast approaching, Obama is in the midst of a vigorous four-day campaign swing that is carrying him to six cities in five states in hopes of staving off a Republican rout at the polls Nov. 2. His trip is focused on fortifying a firewall to protect Democratic control of the Senate by lifting incumbent senators in three western states: Murray, Barbara Boxer (Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.).
The president flew to San Francisco on Thursday afternoon to attend Democratic fundraisers, and he plans to be at a Friday morning rally in Los Angeles for Boxer and gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown. Later Friday, he will headline a Democratic National Committee rally in Las Vegas.
Earlier on Thursday, Obama acknowledged that he has not done enough to sell his administration's economic policies to the public. In a question-and-answer session in a Seattle family's back yard with about 30 people, many of them mothers and female small-business owners, Obama said he had been in "emergency mode" during the past two years and did not devote adequate time to promoting what Democrats were doing to stave off an economic depression.
"We had to move so fast," Obama said. "We were in such emergency mode that it was very difficult for us to spend a lot of time doing victory laps and advertising exactly what we were doing, because we had to move on to the next thing. And I take some responsibility for that. I mean, our attitude was we just had to get the policy right, and we did not always think about making sure we were advertising properly what was going on."
The president's focus on female voters coincides with a new National Economic Council report that says women are increasingly the breadwinners for their families and concludes that the administration's economic policies are benefiting them.
"The economy has changed so that women have made such enormous strides that they now constitute half of the workforce," Obama said at the backyard talk. He added, "We've made enormous strides since the 1960s, when my grandmother worked in a bank and went as far as she could and became a vice president, but still hit a glass ceiling."
Obama said men have been hard hit in the recession, losing jobs faster than women, particularly in the construction industry, but added that women are more often keenly aware of the weak economy. "At least in my household," he said, women have a "greater sense of the family budget."
The White House said the administration's focus on women was not orchestrated for political benefit. "This has been a continuing focus of the president's," Gibbs told reporters on Air Force One en route from Washington to Portland, Ore., on Wednesday. "The timing isn't political. It's an issue that obviously is on everybody's mind, and I'm sure is on the minds of people of the states that are represented by women in the Senate and those that aren't."
On Thursday morning, Obama and his motorcade stopped at Top Pot Doughnuts, a small shop in downtown Seattle, to grab a couple dozen doughnuts on his way to the backyard event. Obama stepped up to the counter and ordered two boxes of designer doughnuts. Then, joined by Murray, he engaged in some retail politicking.
"Everybody know Senator Murray?" Obama said, shaking hands and working the room of coffee drinkers.
"Everybody needs to remember to vote," he said later, returning to the counter to pick up his doughnuts.
The president lifted the lid of one of the boxes to try one and told Murray they were too big to eat alone.
"This is outstanding," Obama said, taking a bite. "You can't eat this every day."