Election 2008: On the Campaign Trail

Obama, Clinton Continue Campaigning in Ky., Ore.

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Voters go to the polls for Democratic primaries Tuesday in two different parts of the country — Oregon and Kentucky. The fight between Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama continues, although Obama is working to sound ready for a fall campaign.


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Senator Barack Obama drew a massive crowd yesterday in Portland, Oregon. It's one of two states, along with Kentucky, where Obama competes against Hillary Clinton in a primary tomorrow. Oregon is also a state that Democrats expect to carry in November, which makes it a perfect place for Obama to spend his time right now. The Democrat does not want to act like he thinks the nomination is decided, yet he's also working to sound ready for a fall campaign.

NPR's David Greene reports.

DAVID GREENE: Barack Obama has seen some large crowds, but the 75,000 people gathered in the sunshine in Portland, Oregon yesterday seemed to catch him by surprise. Boaters and kayakers out in the river were pulling up as close as they could to get a listen.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): This is the most spectacular setting for the most spectacular crowd that we have had in this entire campaign. This is unbelievable.

GREENE: Obama praised Hillary Clinton. He said Clinton's been a formidable candidate and has worked as hard as she can; then it was on to the subject of John McCain.

Sen. OBAMA: I don't think we've made great progress over the last seven and a half years, and that's why we can't afford four more years of George W. Bush's ideas in the White House.

GREENE: Speaking of President Bush, he offered another signal that the general election's approaching. Last week Mr. Bush decided to go on the attack against Obama for suggesting a U.S. president should meet with leaders of countries like Iran. Mr. Bush said Obama's idea amounts to appeasement. His remark gave Obama the kind of opening he's been looking for to lump the president together with his party's presumptive nominee. This was Obama Saturday at another event in Oregon.

Sen. OBAMA: If George Bush and John McCain have a problem with direct diplomacy led by the president of the United States, then they can explain why they have a problem with John F. Kennedy, 'cause that's what he did with Khrushchev, or Ronald Reagan, 'cause that's what he did with Gorbachev, or Richard Nixon, 'cause that's what they did with Mao. That's exactly the kind of diplomacy we need to keep us safe.

GREENE: Obama's expected to win Oregon tomorrow while losing to Clinton in Kentucky. By night's end, Obama will likely have a majority of the delegates, allocated based on voting. Still, with plenty of superdelegates undecided, Obama told reporters he'll refrain from declaring victory, and that'll suit John McCain just fine. He had a message for Democrats that he delivered live from New York on Saturday night.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Saturday Night Live")

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): You have two incredibly talented candidates. Why not take every possible second to weigh each of their pros and cons? For all you know, there're a bunch of cons you don't even know about yet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. MCCAIN: Cons that won't reveal themselves should you choose a candidate too early.

GREENE: The joke, of course, is that McCain may benefit from a divided Democratic Party. One person who says he won't is Hillary Clinton. She was asked in an interview that aired on CNN yesterday if she's worried that if Obama's the nominee, her supporters might back McCain.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York, Presidential Candidate): You know, in the heat of a primary campaign, people get - their passions are high, they feel intensely. That's all understandable. But once we have a nominee, we're going to have a unified Democratic Party.

GREENE: But not so fast, is her message on the campaign trail, especially in Kentucky, where she's expecting rural working-class voters to put another state in her win column.

Sen. CLINTON: If we get everybody turned out, it's going to send a great message to our country that you don't stop democracy in its tracks. You don't tell some states that they can't vote and other states that have already had the opportunity that they're somehow more important. I don't believe that. I want everybody to vote and everybody to help pick our next president.

GREENE: Clinton noted Obama's absence in the Bluegrass State.

Sen. CLINTON: I am proud to be campaigning in Kentucky. Now, my opponent said the other day he wasn't coming back, so I've got the whole state to myself. What a treat.

GREENE: Clinton planned to stay in Kentucky through election night. Obama plans to watch election results in Iowa, a state that had its caucus back in January and gave Obama his first big win. Obama said he chose Iowa to, quote, "kind of bring things full circle."

David Greene, NPR News, Washington.

INSKEEP: You can get a preview of the Oregon and Kentucky primaries at NPR.org/Elections.

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A Tale of Two Democratic Primary States

Obama supporters listen to him at a rally at the University of Oregon.

Three young supporters listen to Illinois Sen. Barack Obama speak during a rally at the University of Oregon, May 9. Mark Wilson/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama signs posters in Bend, Ore.

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama signs books and posters at a campaign rally at Summit High School in Bend, Ore., May 10. Mark Wilson/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Clinton supporters listen to her at a Kentucky Democratic Party dinner.

People listen as New York Sen. Hillary Clinton speaks at the Kentucky Democratic Party dinner, May 8. Joe Raedle/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Joe Raedle/Getty Images

You could scarcely find a better illustration of the two disparate wings of the Democratic Party than the upcoming primary states of Oregon and Kentucky.

Oregon is affluent, green and antiwar, with a large college-age population. Politically, the state is seen as a liberal leader in everything from bike trails to assisted-suicide legislation. The state has just two Republicans in its congressional delegation of seven, and the most prominent, Sen. Gordon Smith, recently turned against the Iraq war.

Kentucky represents the other side of the coin for the Democrats: rural and blue collar, with a long history of dependence on coal. The state twice voted for former President Bill Clinton but has otherwise voted for Republicans in five of the last seven presidential contests. Academics compare its demographics to West Virginia, where New York Sen. Hillary Clinton won the primary with 67 percent of the vote.

No one is disputing that Obama will take Oregon; the only question is his margin of victory.

"The early polling was 4 to 6 percentage points in his favor. The later polls have been 14 to 15 percent. I'm expecting it will be somewhere in between," says Kevin Smith, a political scientist at the University of Oregon.

Kentucky is "going to be another Hillary Clinton state," says Donald Gross, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. "She's way ahead of Obama, and there's nothing really that's going to fundamentally change to give him a victory."

With Kentucky secure, Clinton has felt free to go after Obama's territory, making lots of campaign stops throughout Oregon on Friday and Saturday. Her husband has spent time in the rural eastern areas of the state, known for their agricultural and timber industries, as well as for their Republican political leanings.

"I have been surprised by the degree to which the Clintons have emphasized Oregon, since it seems like a pretty clear case that Obama will win," says Robert Sahr, a political scientist from Oregon State University. "The Clintons are hoping to cut the margins."

Even though Oregon favors Obama and Kentucky leans heavily toward Clinton ahead of Tuesday's races, political scientists warn that neither Democrat can count on either state in the general election.

The majority of Kentuckians who register with a party choose the Democratic label, but the state is quite comfortable voting Republican in statewide contests.

"Clinton should win convincingly on Tuesday in Kentucky," says Joe Gershtenson, a political scientist at Eastern Kentucky University. "But both Hillary and Obama are running behind McCain in the general election straw polls."

And while Oregon's urban centers of Portland, Eugene, Salem and Corvallis are seen as liberal, the state overall has a long Republican history with an independent streak. It only began to shift Democratic in the late 1980s.

With material from the Associated Press



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