SEATTLE - Before stepping onto a stage to address hundreds of people, Vice President Joe Biden had a smaller group to impress: 40 supporters of congressional candidate Denny Heck.
At an intimate breakfast fundraiser for Heck, an Olympia businessman seeking to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, Biden encouraged donors eating pastries, fruit and parfaits of yogurt not to lose hope for the Nov. 2 elections.
“Paraphrasing Samuel Clemens, the reports of the death of the Democratic Party are greatly exaggerated,” he said, a line he would repeat at his rally in downtown Tacoma for Sen. Patty Murray.
Biden, who has been crisscrossing the country for candidates in local, state and national races, said he has joined 95 candidates at 110 events, and he predicted: “We’re going to be just fine. We’re going to keep the House, and we’re going to keep the Senate.”
That hinges in part on the success of the two Democrats Biden was helping out Friday: Murray, in a tough fight with Republican Dino Rossi; and Heck, who faces Republican state Rep. Jaime Herrera for the 3rd Congressional District seat.
“This (race) matters,” Heck said. “It matters way beyond its borders. It matters enough that I got up out of my semi-retirement chair to take this on.”
Heck, who said that years ago he had then-Sen. Biden over to his home for a political fundraiser benefiting another candidate, hosted him at the Westin Seattle Hotel this time. Baird and U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, were among the small group of attendees.
A Heck campaign spokesman said Thursday and Friday that he didn’t know how much contributors paid for a ticket to the event. Heck’s campaign manager couldn’t be reached Friday.
Heck co-founded TVW, Washington state’s government affairs network, after a career as state House majority leader and former Gov. Booth Gardner’s chief of staff.
With Republicans such as Herrera, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, criticizing the Obama administration for record deficits, Biden said the problem was inherited from the Bush administration.
Turning the responsibility for lowering the debt over to Republicans would be “like making the arsonist the fire commissioner,” Biden said.
The rally, where Biden spoke to about 1,000 people by the Murray campaign’s estimate, was part of get-out-the-vote efforts a week before ballots are mailed to voters.
At the fundraiser, Biden directly criticized Herrera for opposing Democrats’ health care overhaul when it would pave the way for small businesses to pool together for health insurance coverage, an idea she supports.
“She’s for it all, but she wants a full repeal,” he said.
“She’s not very informed, from what I understand,” Biden said of Herrera.
Herrera campaign manager Casey Bowman said the bill’s small-business pools, set to take effect by 2014, might be different than the kind of pools Herrera wants, which would allow purchasing of health insurance across state lines.
“The conversation she has with small businesses, they’re holding on white-knuckled with what the health care takeover is going to do to their business,” he said.
Republicans performed better than Democrats in the 3rd District’s top-two primary, and polls have indicated Herrera is in the lead.
“I think the people of Seattle and this area are a lot smarter than the pundits give them credit for,” Biden said. “ I think they’re going to vote their interest, and you are their interest, Denny.”
The district stretches from Olympia to Vancouver.
Touting the administration’s record on the economy at the fundraiser, he credited the $800 billion federal stimulus, or Recovery Act, with creating or saving at least 3 million jobs, though he agreed with critics from the left that a larger stimulus would have had more economic impact.
“The Recovery Act didn’t do enough because we couldn’t spend enough,” he said.
Republicans marked Biden’s visit by criticizing the Obama administration and congressional Democrats for that very spending.
“They think they can spend to get us out of this economic mess, when the spending is the mess,” Bowman said.
Biden said the stimulus hasn’t worsened long-term debt because it lasts only two years.
State Republican Party chairman Luke Esser said the fundraising appearance for Heck helps the candidate because the vice president can bring in a lot of funds at a critical time for the campaign. But, he said, it also “ties him (Heck) to the D.C. establishment,” which the Republicans have been trying to do.
Democrats saw it differently, of course.
“It just shines the national spotlight on the 3rd District, and voters realize it’s a race that’s watched across the country,” said state Democratic chairman Dwight Pelz. “Hopefully, they take a little more time to look at the candidates.”
Staff writer Brad Shannon contributed to this report.