Politics & Government

Biden to campaign Sunday in Washington State

WASHINGTON -- Joe Biden's visit to Tacoma on Sunday is just another in a long line of appearances by Democratic presidential and vice presidential candidates in the closing days of their campaigns, as John Kerry, Al Gore, Michael Dukakis and Geraldine Ferraro all held rallies.

It's an opportunity to target a largely working-class county that has become a pivotal battleground in statewide elections.

And, in Biden's case, it's an opportunity to provide a boost to Gov. Chris Gregoire's campaign in a county she lost by 12,000 or so votes in her razor-thin 2004 win.

Gregoire, locked in a tight rematch with Republican Dino Rossi, will introduce Biden at an afternoon rally at Cheney Stadium.

"I'm not sure why Tacoma was selected," said Aaron Tosso, a spokesman for the Gregoire campaign.

Biden's campaign staff didn't shed much light on the decision except to say that Democrats would fight for "every vote, everywhere," and that Tacoma and Pierce County residents have been among those hurt by the current economic downturn.

"We intend to speak to them, and an Obama-Biden administration looks forward to having a partner in Gov. Christine Gregoire because she understands the need to turn this country around," David Wade, Biden's press secretary, said in an e-mail.

But Democratic strategist say there was a clear strategy behind the decision for the Delaware senator and running mate of Barack Obama to appear in Tacoma rather than Seattle.

"It's a toss-up race in a toss-up county," Ron Dotzauer, a longtime political strategist who has run statewide campaigns, said of the governor's campaign. "Of course I would put Biden there."

Rick Desimone, a former chief of staff to Sen. Patty Murray who helped engineer her 2002 re-election, said Pierce County is "territory fought over inch by inch" in recent elections.

"Pierce County is a classic swing county," Desimone said. "It's not a foregone conclusion that if you win Pierce County you win the state, but if you don't it's a lot harder."

Desimone is helping a new organization named Evergreen Progress, which is running an independent advertising campaign supporting Gregoire.

In her first election, Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell lost Pierce County to then incumbent Republican Sen. Slade Gorton by roughly 7,000 votes. In 2006 when she won re-lection, she beat Republican Mike McGavick by 32,000 votes in Pierce County.

Eastern Pierce County has become crucial in the race for the 8th Congressional District. It was there that incumbent Republican Rep. Dave Reichert earned his narrow victory over Democrat Darcy Burner in 2006. Reichert and Burner are locked in another tight campaign.

"Pierce County has more blue-collar swing voters than King County," said Michael Meehan, a political strategist and former Cantwell chief of staff. "It makes perfect sense to bring Biden there."

Meehan said there is a "bump" for a presidential campaign wherever it goes. For Gregoire, "the higher the turnout for Obama-Biden the better it is for her," he said.

Gregoire was also one of those who endorsed Obama early, and the Biden visit could be payback.

"Research shows she hasn't gotten a lot of upward draft from the endorsement, a lot of votes in her column," said Dotzauer.

The strategists also said Pierce County is perfect territory for Biden, who grew up in a working-class family in blue-collar Scranton, Pa. Working-class voters have been targeted by both the Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns.

"If they are fighting over these people in Pennsylvania and Ohio, why not fight over them here?" said Desimone, who lives in Tacoma. "Biden has a working-class background and that type of politics plays well in Pierce County."

Desimone said the major Seattle television stations would travel south to Tacoma or north to Everett to cover a presidential or vice presidential rally.

"So the question for them (the Obama-Biden campaign) is where do you go to make a difference?" he said.

But even as Biden holds a rally in Tacoma, he later holds a fund-raiser and reception in Seattle.

Which is cooler, Gregoire introducing Biden in Tacoma or Sen. Cantwell introducing musician Dave Mathews at the Seattle reception?