State finally tastes big campaign buzz

Former president stumps for Hillary Clinton as front-runner Obama’s staff keeps up pace
by: L.E. BASKOW, 
Speaking on health care and economics Monday at Oregon Health 
& Science University, ex-President Clinton made Portland one of four Oregon stops on the campaign trail for his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. His appearance came 10 days after Democratic front-runner Sen. Barack Obama’s visit to Memorial Coliseum.

Just 10 days after Sen. Barack Obama rallied a crowd of 13,000 in Portland with a speech at Memorial Coliseum, former President Clinton stumped for his wife in Portland on Monday morning during a four-city swing through the state. After months of drama on the national level, the Democratic presidential race is finally heating up in Oregon, still considered to be a battleground state despite its late May 20 primary election date. Obama’s campaign opened its Portland headquarters and a Eugene office last week and kicked off its canvassing efforts here and in 13 other cities over the weekend with at least 1,000 volunteers. There are about 25 paid staffers already on the ground in Portland, with more to come later. “The date we’re shooting for is May 2, the date the vote-by-mail ballots go out” in Oregon, said Nick Shapiro, state campaign spokesman for Obama. Sen. Hillary Clinton’s campaign has been slower to mobilize here but now is hiring field organizers to work with volunteers around the state. Clinton’s state campaign director, Clay Haynes, said he expects her to visit Oregon in the next week and a half. During the former president’s first Portland stop, he gave his wife credit for federal approval of the Medicaid waiver that allowed the creation of the Oregon Health Plan that insures low-income state residents. Speaking before hundreds of people at Oregon Health and Science University, he said Hillary fought for the waiver against some members of his staff who opposed it. “And you got it,” Clinton said during a speech at a campaign event dubbed “Solutions for the Economy” in the school’s Old Library Auditorium. Clinton also said his wife supported federal investment in research for alternative energy and green technology, two fields that Portland city leaders have identified as economic development opportunities. Fans of Hillary Clinton lined up hours before the talk, which was scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. but didn’t start until 10:30 a.m. “I have been enamored with her ever since she was the first lady and tried to do something about health care,” said Amorée Lovell, who showed up at the library around 6:45 a.m. to hear former President Clinton speak. Lovell described herself as an uninsured artist, musician and teacher. After the talk, Clinton was set to attend an event with seniors at the Cherry Blossom Center in Southeast Portland. From there he was slated to travel to Salem for a campaign event at Chemeketa Community College. He was scheduled to wrap up his public Oregon campaign appearances at 5 p.m. Monday in Bend, this time at Bend Senior High School. Clinton arrived in Oregon on Sunday for an event at North Medford High School. Addressing a crowd of 2,500 at the Southern Oregon city, he dismissed calls for his wife to step aside in her race against Obama. Both candidates are fighting for a share of Oregon’s 65 party delegates as well as the state’s popular vote in the May 20 election. The Obama campaign’s slight head start here may reflect Obama’s fundraising lead over Clinton. According to the latest Federal Election Commission reports, Obama has raised $1.1 million in Oregon while Clinton has collected $422,000. In addition, Oregon — unlike Pennsylvania, which holds its primary April 22 — is widely considered to be leaning toward Obama. “I think they’re probably figuring out that Pennsylvania is almost an impossible opportunity for them, and they need a boomerang after Pennsylvania’s over with,” said Russ Dondero, an adjunct political science professor at Portland State University who supports Obama. The Clintons long have been popular among Oregon Democrats, Dondero said. But he predicts the Iraq war, not the economy, will be the pivotal issue here. “Oregon being a strongly anti-war state, that issue alone is going to lean us toward Obama,” he said. Obama also won endorsements from the Democrats’ most formidable interest groups, the Oregon Education Association and Service Employees International Union Local 503. The unions, which represent teachers and public workers, can mobilize hundreds of volunteers and bring campaign cash Obama’s way. Message hits the doorsteps On Saturday morning, the energy at the Obama camp — the former Wild Oats grocery store on Southeast Division Street at 30th Avenue — was bubbling over, as U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., fired up a crowd of about 500 volunteers. U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., came from Obama’s home state to bring her support as well. The hundreds of volunteers then dispersed into various neighborhoods to urge Democrats to register to vote (the deadline is April 29) and spread the word about Obama’s message of change. They had no maps or polling data telling them where to go, no scripts they had to follow. “It’s so volunteer-oriented and grass-roots,” Shapiro said. “They’re going to their friends and neighbors, people they know, talking about why they personally support Barack Obama, not the message of the day.” Gov. Ted Kulongoski, an early backer of Clinton, said he’ll campaign for her in Pennsylvania for that state’s primary, as he did in Iowa. Kulongoski and U.S. Rep. Darlene Hooley, two of Oregon’s 12 Democratic superdelegates, are the only ones among that group who have committed to Clinton, although Kulongoski told The Associated Press last week that he’d consider the will of Oregon voters in the primary if it is a lopsided victory for Obama. Blumenauer, co-chairman of Obama’s statewide campaign, is the only Oregon superdelegate backing Obama; the rest have said they’ll wait to see how Oregon voters weigh in. At the latest Associated Press count, Obama led Clinton 1,623 to 1,499. It takes 2,024 delegates to secure the Democratic nomination. Supporters vie for visibility One of Clinton’s donors is state Rep. Carolyn Tomei, D-Milwaukie. She wishes Clinton were more visible here, especially after Obama made a stir with his recent visit. “There’s a huge groundswell, I know, for Obama,” Tomei said. “That doesn’t diminish my support for Clinton in the least. As a woman in politics myself, I know that in many ways it’s an uphill battle.” Back at the Obama headquarters, young people began gathering at the three-story former Wild Oats space last week with their laptops, phones and dry-erase boards. The purple, orange, yellow and green walls were covered in “Yes we can” posters and other campaign paraphernalia, and stacks of voter registration forms and volunteer sign-up lists were piled throughout. After the daylong canvassing effort Saturday, hundreds of volunteers returned to the headquarters office for a potluck meal and socializing. “This office dwarfs the ones in California and Texas; it’s huge,” said Shapiro, who worked for the campaign in those states before arriving here recently. He said Portland-area volunteers will continue canvassing every weekend in their neighborhoods and coffee shops until there’s a clear victory. “In some campaigns, the staff need to work very hard and motivate volunteers,” he said. “That is not the case here. We just have to harness all the energy.”