Oregonians can help the nation move forward by throwing their support to Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain in the May 20 presidential primary.

The fact that Oregon matters at all in this presidential race is something of a small miracle, considering the lateness of its primary. But since Oregonians have a rare chance this election year to influence whom the Democrats ultimately select to run in November, the state's voters ought to stake their claim on the future and help the nation transcend some of its past divisions.

Both Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton have visited the state (along with former President Clinton) and have ignited levels of excitement not seen during an Oregon primary since the mid-1970s. The two Democratic candidates have similarities on the issues, and they present an opportunity to break racial and gender barriers for the nation's highest office. But our support for Obama comes down to a belief that the nation - and the world -needs new ways to resolve old battles.

Obama's campaign already has proven transformative in many ways. He has engaged and motivated younger voters who are willing to put aside the cynicism held by many of their elders and to believe that government can be a positive force for change. Obama also represents a unique opportunity to unify this nation around the strength of its racial and ethnic diversity.

Republicans already have settled on Arizona Sen. John McCain as their candidate and he would have received our backing had that race remained competitive in Oregon. McCain's maverick reputation and moderate voting record are a good match for Oregon, where the state GOP was once lead by innovative free-thinkers such as Tom McCall and Mark Hatfield.

We clearly recognize that Hillary Clinton is a skillful politician, a fact which she demonstrated during her recent visit to Hillsboro. Her keen grasp of the misguided federal policies governing liquified natural gas energized critics of LNG proposals in Oregon and, we hope, will prompt other members of Congress to follow her lead.

In short, we agree with Clinton's claim that she'll be ready 'on Day 1.' But so will those who want to stand in her way.

Clinton gained a lot of knowledge during her husband's two terms in the Oval Office and her stint in the U.S. Senate and we applaud the poise in which she's handled the pressure of being the first woman to make a serious bid for the U.S. presidency.

But Clinton also has picked up some baggage, including her stance of being 'for the Iraq War, until she was against it' and her inability to make a convincing case that one of those positions wasn't guided by politics. Our fear is that a 'second' Clinton presidency will further polarize the nation along the partisan fault lines we saw during the 1990s.

Obama, to be sure, would face plenty of challenges, not the least of which is his race. But he doesn't carry the political burdens of someone who's been to the White House before.

After 20 years of Bush-Clinton-Bush, the American public deserves two candidates who aren't tethered to the orthodoxies of their parties' recent past. A McCain-Obama matchup in November would provide the best forum to debate the future direction of this country, including monumental issues of war, an ailing economy, sustainability, decaying urban infrastructure, terrorism and a dysfunctional health-care system.

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