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Associated Press - Obama Hits Familiar Themes for Enthusiastic Oregon Crowd

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Location: Portland, OR

Associated Press - Obama Hits Familiar Themes for Enthusiastic Oregon

By Julia Silverman

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama made his first visit to Oregon since declaring his presidential candidacy Friday night, stressing the big themes of his campaign in a speech light on specifics but with a few veiled jabs at rivals.

The visit drew an enthusiastic crowd of about 3,400 at the Oregon Convention Center. Each paid at least $25. Others attended pre-event fundraiser, paying between $250 and $2,300 apiece.

Except for a joking reference to the nearby Justin Timberlake concert, Obama avoided direct references to Oregon-specific issues, hitting instead on broader themes dear to his liberal backers, such as promises for universal health care, a swift end to the war in Iraq, stricter fuel efficiency standards, an end to the genocide in Darfur, and investments in early childhood education in the U.S. and beyond. And he repeated his plea for a move away from partisan politics and the red state/blue state divide.

"What we need is a transformation - we need something entirely new, a new chapter in American history," Obama said.

Democratic and Republican administrations alike have failed at making real health care reform, he said, invoking one of the high-profile setbacks of a rival, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, who led a failed health care reform effort during her husband's administration.

He also referred to charges that his experience, limited to three years in the Senate, is not enough to be president.

"Time served does not guarantee good judgment," he said. "A long resume doesn't speak to character."

He said he would seek to repair what he called America's damaged image after the Iraq war.

"A strong president is not afraid to talk to our adversaries and tell them where America stands," he said.

Oregon lacks the deep pocketed donors of California or New York and isn't an early primary state.

By the time Oregonians vote in May's primary, nominees for both major parties likely will have been decided.

But Oregon could regain some luster as one of only a handful of swing states.

Oregon has been trending Democratic recently, but in 2004 John Kerry won here by a relatively slim margin, and strategists from both major parties say Oregon and its 7 electoral votes could be very much in play in 2008.

As of June 30, the most recent data from the Federal Election Commission said Oregonians had donated just over $1 million to the presidential candidates in roughly equal amounts to the Democrats and Republicans.

Obama was running third among Democrats with $123,451, behind Hillary Clinton and John Edwards.

Obama hasn't named an official steering committee in Oregon, as Romney, Clinton and Edwards have. But an enthusiastic Internet group, Oregon 4 Obama, has begun holding house parties for him.

Inconclusive early polling suggests that Hillary Clinton leads Democrats in Oregon as she does nationally with Edwards and Obama close behind.

Friday night drew a generally younger crowd, some saying they were devoted to Obama and others saying they weren't yet sure.

"He's so dynamic - he seems like the most genuine candidate, and he's been honest about his past," said Greg Given, a student at Reed College in Portland.

"He's been on The Daily Show," chimed in his friend, Cory Aron, a student at Lewis and Clark College, who said plenty of his friends watch the tart, tongue-in-cheek newscast on Comedy Central to keep up with world affairs.

A group of black female educators from Portland grabbed spots in the front row, decked out in Obama T-shirts.

"We love Hillary, don't get me wrong, but we need to move beyond that," said Cynthia Harris, principal of Jefferson High School, which is 75 percent black. "Obama is a breath of fresh air, not the same old, same old."

The stop was part of a West Coast swing. He appeared earlier in the day in San Francisco to speak at a women's luncheon, more traditional turf for Clinton.

Also Friday, Francisco Pena, who headed the transportation and energy departments in the Clinton administration, announced that he'd be a co-chairman of Obama's campaign.

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