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Obama rides enthusiasm on I-5 swing

More than 30,000 see presidential hopeful at Oregon campaign stops
by: L.E. BASKOW, Presidential hopeful Barack Obama waves to supporters at a packed Memorial Coliseum.

Chants of O-bam-a! O-bam-a! began about a half-hour before the Illinois senator took the Memorial Coliseum stage Friday morning.

A boisterous crowd of nearly 13,000 was ready for something big. So was the campaign staff for Democratic presidential contender Sen. Barack Obama. Staff members were looking at something Super Tuesday big from the two-day tour of Oregon's Interstate 5 corridor from Portland to Medford.

'It was a huge trip for us,' said Nick Shapiro, Obama campaign spokesman in Oregon. 'This was sort of like Texas before March 4, and Iowa and New Hampshire. Having five events in a day is quite a lot.'

It's too early to tell if Obama's trip will pay off with a victory in Oregon's May 20 primary, or even with an increase in campaign volunteers and donations, Shapiro said. The campaign expects a bump in help and money because of the exposure, he said.

Obama is in a close Democratic primary battle with New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. Although Obama leads in the overall delegate count, he used a news conference after the Memorial Coliseum speech to emphasize how important Oregon's 65 Democratic delegates will be in the nomination process.

An estimated 30,000 people saw Obama at events Friday in Portland, Salem and Eugene.

A surprise detour to downtown Corvallis on Friday evening for dinner attracted a couple hundred people inside and outside the American Dream Pizza shop on Second Street, Shapiro said, where Obama ate a slice of cheese pizza, shook some hands, answered a few questions and campaigned like it was January in New Hampshire.

Another 1,800 saw him at the Kids Unlimited town hall meeting in Medford on Saturday morning, with an overflow crowd of about 1,000 people.

Obama even squeezed in a fundraiser in Portland on Friday morning before heading to Salem, Shapiro said. The Eugene rally began after 9 p.m., at the end of the Willamette Valley tour.

'That's a long day,' he said.

The long day began with the endorsement by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who praised Obama as 'the best man to be president' and called for an end to negative campaigning in the Democratic primary.

During his nearly 50-minute speech, Obama touched on several hot-button issues - ending the war in Iraq, affordable college education, health care for uninsured Americans and boosting the alternative energy industry - that drew enthusiastic applause and shouts of agreement from the audience.

Obama said his 15 months of campaigning had shown him that people across the country were dissatisfied and disconnected from the federal government.

'What I hear from Americans all across this country is that they have lost their trust and confidence in their leaders,' Obama said. 'They feel like they're not being heard.

'They love this county, but they are ashamed of Guantánamo, they're ashamed of Abu Ghraib, they're ashamed of the warrantless wiretaps that tap into our civil liberties, they're ashamed of rendition, and they can't believe there'd still be a debate on whether our country tortures or not.'

He offered his candidacy as a way to reconnect with the government in Washington, D.C.

'We want to restore a sense that this government is working for you and fighting for you,' Obama said.

When he spoke about alternative energy, Obama said he told Detroit automakers that higher gas mileage standards for vehicles were necessary to make the country stronger. He also said the nation needed to invest in 'green' energy projects to 'leave a better planet for our children.'

'We're going to cap the emission of greenhouse gases that are causing global warming, and we're going to charge polluters for their pollution, and we're going to make billions of dollars,' Obama said to thundering applause.

'And we will reinvest that money in solar and wind and biodiesel, clean energy sources. We can put people back to work building windmills and building solar panels, creating the next clean alternative fuel. If we just have a little bit of imagination there is no reason we can't accomplish it.'

Obama could return to Oregon before the May primary election, Shapiro said.

Reporter Daniel Savickas contributed to this story.

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