Clinton talks up environment in first Oregon stop

Clinton talks up environment in first Oregon stop
Sierra Stewart, 11, of Beavercreek, Ore., center, is overcome with emotion after meeting Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as she campaigns at Liberty High School in Hillsboro, Ore.
HILLSBORO, Ore. (AP) - In her first visit to Oregon as a presidential candidate, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton promised a packed high school gymnasium that the state's voters would get their chance to weigh in on the hotly contested Democratic race in May.

"I am a fighter," Clinton told a crowd of about 2,600 at Liberty High School in Hillsboro, as thousands more watched her speech in an overflow room. "I happened to believe this country is worth fighting for. And I also believe that you don't make difficult, consequential change in America merely by wishing for it and hoping for it."

Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama are both vying for their party's nomination, in a contest that's lasted far longer than predicted. Oregon's May 20 primary is one of the last in the nation, and the state's voters had expected to find themselves on the sidelines.

Instead, both campaigns are opening offices around the state and canvassing for voters, Obama headlined a series of rallies in the Willamette Valley last month, and on Saturday, Clinton promised more visits.

She also made a point of nodding to Oregon-centric issues, dedicating a portion of her speech to her opposition to siting floating terminals for storage and delivery of natural gas on or near the Oregon Coast - an issue on which she differs somewhat with her highest-profile supporter in Oregon, Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who introduced her.

Clinton told the crowd she was fighting one such proposal terminal in Long Island Sound, between New York and Connecticut; Kulongoski, though he has asked federal regulators to study all alternatives to supplying natural gas to Oregon, has said that the state's energy portfolio could benefit from the addition of natural gas.

Clinton also drew on Oregon's reputation as an environmentally aware state, saying the state was a role model for several of her priorities, via its growing wind power industry and its reputation for energy efficient building projects. She promised investments in "green manufacturing," and said such new programs would be partially paid for by removing tax subsidies for big oil companies.

But some of the audience's biggest cheers were reserved for national issues, like her promise to end No Child Left Behind, the education accountability initiative promoted by the Bush administration, and her statement that if elected, she'd hope to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq within two months.

Though polls show Oregon tilting toward Obama, Hillsboro and other Portland suburbs could prove fertile territory for her, with a more moderate population than in the downtown urban core.

"I have never voted before - in junior high, I decided I wouldn't vote until a woman ran," said Hillsboro resident Olivia Leon, who owns a small business. "And here I am. I have waited 50 years for this."

Leon said she remembered Bill Clinton's presidency with affection, and said she had admired Hillary Clinton's "patience" as First Lady, and her loyalty to her husband, even in hard times.

"That won't change when she runs the country," Leon said.

Janice Erickson, an office manager who lives in Washington County, said she was a lifelong Republican who had switched her registration in order to be able to vote in the Democratic primary, after becoming disillusioned with Arizona Sen. John McCain's stance on immigration and the war - though after the race, she said she'll switch back and support U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith's bid for re-election.

She hadn't made up her mind between Clinton and Obama yet, Erickson added, but she was leaning toward Clinton.

"I think it is time for a female president, time to shake up the good-old boys," she said.

During the start of her speech, Clinton acknowledged both Kulongoski and U.S. Rep. Darlene Hooley, Oregon superdelegates - elected leaders who can vote for whomever they wish at the party's convention in Denver this summer - who have backed her.

Though Hooley is retiring from her Congressional seat, Clinton hinted that she could find work in a Clinton administration, while Kulongoski - an avid bowler - was promised a chance to go bowling at the White House.