Demonstrably Seattle: Biden Comes to Town Today


A raucous far-left, pro-Palestine demonstration is almost certain to greet Joe Biden on his Friday fundraising visit to Seattle. Our nation’s presidents and aspirants have learned to expect nothing less from stopovers in this corner of America’s “left coast.”

A tradition of rough receptions dates back more than a century. President William Howard Taft was stung by a bee on a visit here. Those receptions are bipartisan, witness a 1968 shouting match between Hubert Humphrey and anti-Vietnam War demonstrators.

We’ve experienced noisy protest. A musical group dubbing itself the Ad Hoc Anti-Fascist Marching Band was on hand, playing the Mickey Mouse Club theme when President Reagan arrived to speak to an American Legion convention. The presidential limousine was later struck by a projectile as the Gipper’s motorcade departed the Seattle Center Arena.

There has also been imaginative dissent. Environmentalists have dressed up as polar bears and salmon, as a greeting to Presidents Clinton and Obama, demanding they pay more attention to protecting old growth forests and curbing climate change. Wearing top hats, a group called Billionaires for Bush greeted our 43rd president outside a pricey fundraiser in Medina.

Radical activism has long been part of Seattle’s political culture, witness a famous remark by James Farley, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Postmaster General: “There are 47 states in the Union, and the Soviet of Washington.”  When China’s senior leader Deng Xiaoping came calling in 1979, he was met with Maoists claiming that the reformist Deng has a sellout.

Security was particularly tight in 2015 when China’s President Xi Jinping came calling, as first stop on a state visit to the United States. A requirement was to keep Falun Gong protests out of both eyesight and hearing range of the Chinese leader.

Local and regional issues have intruded into leader visits, notably a rally at the Seattle waterfront. Gerald Ford came calling by water during the 1976 campaign and had to breach a blockade of fishing vessels. The fisher folk were protesting the Boldt decision, the federal court ruling that intitled 50 percent of our salmon catch to treaty Indian tribes.

There’s been a memorable private display of fury by a future president. During the 1968 campaign, Richard Nixon dodged network TV interviews and questions having to do with his stance on ending the Vietnam War. The campaign’s tactic was to give snippets of airtime to local television reporters.

The Nixon campaign blundered into picking one Don McGaffin of KING-TV – a famously blunt newsman – for the anticipated brief softball interview. Just what were Nixon’s plans for ending the war and dealing with urban unrest, McGaffin wanted to know, in questions phrased to resist soundbite escape. Nixon delivered evasive answers, and later vented fury at his aides.

Mother Nature has even intruded with leader visits, most notably in 1999 when Vice President Al Gore and his son set out to climb Mt. Rainier. The remains of a Pacific hurricane arrived on the mountain during the Gores’ climb. The Veep summited, came off through blustery weather, and declared: “It was great.”

Two presidential visits have been harbinger of demise. In 1923, President Warren G. Harding arrived back in Seattle after an exhausting trip to Alaska. He was put through an outdoor event on a blazing hot day. Harding made it to his next stop in San Francisco, and died.

On July 29, 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt paid a visit to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, fresh from a wartime tour which took him to Hawaii and Alaska.  In mid-speech aboard the U.S.S. Cummings, FDR faltered and appeared momentarily confused. Roosevelt had suffered some form of angina attack, but somehow finished his remarks. The president whispered an urgent request to lie down. He managed to keep secret rising health problems while running for a fourth term in the White House.

Joe Biden experienced one controversy of his own making on a Seattle visit. During the 2008 campaign, as vice presidential nominee, Biden spoke to a big givers’ fundraiser at the Seattle Sheraton and put himself and Barack Obama into hot water.

Biden predicted that a President Obama would face a major foreign policy test within his first months in office and would need support from those in the room. The remarks played into a McCain campaign theme that Obama was unprepared for the office. “Tell Joe I love him,” Obama reacted, but don’t let it happen again.

Of course, there has been a flip side to the hard time experienced by presidents, candidates and foreign leaders who have come calling in these parts. A 1996 Bill Clinton reelection bus tour began with an enormous morning turnout at the Pike Place Market. On the eve of Washington’s 2008 caucuses, candidate Obama was welcomed by an overflow crowd at what is now Climate Pledge Arena.

The Seattle left has given its heart twice in recent times. Longshot Democrat hopeful Howard Dean drew a big downtown crowd on a kickoff tour to the 2004 campaign.  Sen. Bernie Sanders drew a full house during three Seattle visits in 2016, and a Tacoma Dome speech in early 2020.

And Seattle has been the setting for a unique good news/bad news episode in presidential politics. A struggling President Carter held his last campaign rally here, a rousing event with a good crowd.  The 39th president boarded Air Force One only to be told by pollster Pat Caddell that he was about to be voted out of office in a landslide.

While Joe Biden raises money here on Friday, it’s a certainty that some will use his visit to raise issues, raise profiles, and – quite likely – raise hell. 

Joel Connelly
Joel Connelly
I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and from 2009 to 6/30/2020. During that time, I wrote about 9 presidential races, 11 Canadian and British Columbia elections‎, four doomed WPPSS nuclear plants, six Washington wilderness battles, creation of two national Monuments (Hanford Reach and San Juan Islands), a 104 million acre Alaska Lands Act, plus the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.


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