Cindy McCain, Todd Palin attend Eastside fund-raiser

Well-connected Republicans gathered last Wednesday morning for a presidential campaign fundraiser at the Hunts Point estate of a wealthy donor and meeting with the candidate’s spouses, Cindy McCain and Todd Palin.

Well-connected Republicans gathered last Wednesday morning for a presidential campaign fundraiser at the Hunts Point estate of a wealthy donor and meeting with the candidates' spouses, Cindy McCain and Todd Palin.

About 250 guests, each paying $1,000, arrived at the home of travel business mogul and cruise line founder Barney Ebsworth - known locally for a failed 2006 plan to build a Japanese-designed chapel in the Bridle Trails neighborhood.

The event raised nearly $900,000.

The event was set up by former Washington Secretary of State Ralph Munro and Chris Fidler, co-chairmen of the state steering committee to elect Sen. John McCain. The event was originally planned to feature Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin, but organizers announced the change last week and Palin headed to New York instead.

“This was an enormously successful event and we raised a considerable amount of money (to help elect McCain,)” Fidler said.

Party luminaries State Attorney General Rob McKenna, Secretary of State Sam Reed and State Republican party chair Luke Esser rubbed elbows with the Kemper Freemans and the Nordstroms at the event under a large white tent on the broad, tree-shaded grounds of the estate.

“They hold a lot of fundraisers here,” said Reed. This is where many of the major donors live.”

Munro said the money raised would be directed to the “national campaign coffers, (the Political Action Committee) Citizens for McCain” to help elect the Republican, since direct fundraising is not allowed after McCain accepted public financing for his election campaign.

The pair impressed the crowd with their enthusiasm and candor. When asked what the guests of honor spoke about, many of the attendees echoed comments from the national campaign about the personalities of the candidates and their spouses rather than comment on policy ideas. Several said McCain impressed them with her graceful style, while others mentioned Palin’s character and his jokes about being the “first dude” of Alaska and “he never thought joining the PTA would lead to this.”

“I thought she was just some air-headed flibberty-gibbet mom,” said Seattle resident Jody Mullaly, however, “She really impressed me. I think the McCain campaign is making a mistake by not using her more often for this.”

A number of donors also weren’t sure how much they had actually contributed, saying someone else had made the arrangements to attend the luncheon for them.

Gary Randall, president of the religious advocacy group Faith and Freedom Foundation, called the event a resounding success.

“We feel the tide turned today and John McCain will win the presidency in November,” he said.

According to Federal Election reports as of Aug. 31, Sen. Obama has out-raised McCain statewide by a 4 to 1 margin.

The gala event, however, was quickly upstaged by an eventful day on the presidential campaign trail. At virtually the same moment as Cindy McCain was arriving at the Ebsworth home, Sen. McCain announced he would suspend his campaign the following day and head to Washington, D.C., to deal with the financial crisis. With the state campaign headquarters in Bellevue still welcoming volunteers Friday, state campaign spokesman Brendan Bartholomew said that while the national campaign was suspended, the local campaign organization would continue.

“These types of grassroots efforts are going to continue to go on,” he said.

National campaign spokesman Rick Gorka said that was because offices were run by the Republican National Committee (RNC) and not technically part of the McCain campaign.

Kendall Watson can be reached at kwatson@kirklandreporter.com or 425-822-9166, ext. 5052.