- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is making a stealth play for Oregon, where a primary win next month — combined with her two strongest remaining states, West Virginia and Kentucky — may open up a pathway to the Democratic ticket by convincing superdelegates that she deserves the nomination.

Mrs. Clinton has set her sights on the Beaver State and its 52 delegates by focusing on local issues. She has concentrated surrogates, staff and resources there and called for two debates in hopes of narrowing the gap between rival Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and herself.

With neither candidate likely winning enough delegates to capture the nomination outright, the attention to the party’s superdelegates and their mind-sets has become increasingly important.

Few polls have been taken of Oregon voters, but Mr. Obama leads Mrs. Clinton 52 percent to 42 percent in a SurveyUSA poll done earlier this month.

Mr. Obama, who is favored to win the state known for antiwar, liberal voters and college towns, last campaigned there March 21 and has not yet announced plans for another trip.

The Oregon for Obama campaign blog boasts of Women for Obama and Veterans for Obama events, and his surrogates are blanketing the state to help sign up new voters. Tuesday is the last day for Oregonians to register to vote.

Mrs. Clinton yesterday challenged Mr. Obama to face off with her in a debate without a moderator, Lincoln-Douglas style, according to the Associated Press.

“Just the two of us, going for 90 minutes, asking and answering questions. We’ll set whatever rules seem fair,” Mrs. Clinton said while campaigning in South Bend, Ind.

Her campaign made the offer formal with a letter to the Obama campaign.

Obama aides said he already had debated Mrs. Clinton 21 times, “the most in primary history.”

Last week, Mr. Obama won over an Oregon superdelegate, Rep. David Wu.

If the May 6 results get muddled, with an Obama win in North Carolina and a close finish either way in Indiana, the rest of May looks bright for Mrs. Clinton.

While attention is focused on the Indiana and North Carolina primaries, three contests that follow — West Virginia on May 13, and Oregon and Kentucky on May 20 — offer Mrs. Clinton the potential for a nice bump. She is favored in Kentucky and West Virginia by 10 points.

After a brief Memorial Day holiday break, Puerto Rico has a June 1 contest, in which Mrs. Clinton leads the polls by big numbers.

An Oregon upset could give her a four-state winning streak before the last two primaries in Montana and South Dakota.

Unless she is able to win 65 percent or 70 percent of the vote in those states — an unlikely prospect — Mrs. Clinton still would trail Mr. Obama in the pledged delegates.

Former President Bill Clinton was back yesterday in Oregon, a state he’s campaigned in several times recently. He also focused on local issues, telling voters in coastal Oregon his wife would help them with fisheries problems and would help bring back the salmon population.

Mrs. Clinton last week rolled out her 13-page Oregon Compact, and her fellow Democrat and supporter, Gov. Theodore R. Kulongoski, will be promoting her plan on the campaign trail throughout the state.

“The compact is made up of some of the most important ideas Hillary has heard from Oregonians since the start of her campaign: how we bring ‘green-collar’ jobs to our state, how we make our state and nation more energy secure, and how we will work together to bring health care to all Oregonians,” he said.

Mr. Kulongoski sent supporters an e-mail explaining he is backing Mrs. Clinton because she will help his state. He also asked them to sign a petition calling for two debates in Oregon, linking to a Web video from Mrs. Clinton on her campaign Web site.

“Oregon deserves just as much attention — and just as much information to make its decision — as Iowa, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania,” Mr. Kulongoski wrote in the e-mail.

Mrs. Clinton’s call for debates earned her some praise, but angered Obama supporters. Some commenters responding to the issue on a WashingtonTimes.com blog said they would stop supporting Mr. Kulongoski.

“I am ashamed of my governor for playing it this way. I won’t vote for him again,” one commenter wrote, noting that former Gov. John Kitzhaber supports Mr. Obama and echoing other Oregonians frustrated with Mr. Kulongoski’s Clinton advocacy.

“The Pacific Northwest hasn’t had a single presidential debate,” Mrs. Clinton says in the video, noting that one debate would be entirely focused on Oregon’s rural issues. “I hope that Senator Obama agrees Oregon deserves nothing less.”

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