PORTLAND, Ore. - President Barack Obama urged Oregon voters to "defy the conventional wisdom" and vote to send John Kitzhaber back to the governor's mansion on Nov. 2 during a rally Wednesday night aimed to give a shot of adrenaline to Democratic voters.
Kitzhaber, a doctor, is running for an unprecedented third term. But he's in a very tight race against Republican Chris Dudley, a former NBA player and a political rookie. According to the latest KATU News/SurveyUSA poll, the race is essentially tied, with 46 percent of those polled supporting Kitzhaber and 45 percent supporting Dudley.
Obama told a boisterous crowd that Kitzhaber is the only candidate in the race who has actually delivered change. He said Kitzhaber has already done the job and did it well.
- Watch President Obama's speech
- Watch Kitzhaber's speech and introduction for Obama
- Photo gallery of President Obama's visit
He told the crowd the choice for governor shouldn’t be difficult.
“I know you have a race where both candidates are talking about change, but there is only one candidate who’s actually delivered change. And that’s John Kitzhaber,” Obama said.
As Kitzhaber sat behind Obama during the speech, the president reeled off Kitzhaber’s accomplishments during his two terms as Oregon’s governor between 1995 and 2003. He said Oregon’s economy grew under Kitzhaber.
“He created more than 120,000 new jobs … and increased access to health care for thousands of children” as well as investing in education.
Obama impressed upon the audience Kitzhaber’s commitment to Oregon by saying he could have gone anywhere after his time in office to promote his health care plan that had gained national attention.
“But he chose to stay here (Oregon), because his commitment to Oregon is personal,” Obama said.
The president said Kitzhaber’s past experience and depth of political experience is a much-needed asset to help the state get back on its feet. Kitzhaber’s opponent, Dudley, has continually hammered away at Kitzhaber during the campaign, saying Kitzhaber’s policies and experience have been a major part of the reason why the state is in the economic mess that it is in.
“As an emergency room doctor, as a legislator, as a governor, as a father, he’s spent his life fighting for the people of Oregon. That’s why you need him again,” Obama said.
During his speech Obama took several shots at the Republican Party and said many members in the party are keeping the country from moving forward because of political reasons.
“They said to themselves, ‘Boy, we made such a big mess; we are in such a deep hole that it’s going to take everything Obama’s got just to try and get us out of it. … Folks are going to be frustrated and angry, and if we just sit on the sidelines and oppose Obama and Democrats every step of the way … then maybe we can ride people’s anger and frustration – they’ll forget that we were the ones who caused this thing in the first place.’”
Obama compared the U.S. economy to a car that was driven into a ditch by the Republicans. After Democrats successfully got the car out of the ditch and pointed in the right direction, Obama said the Republicans now “’want the keys back.’ And we got to tell them that ‘you can’t have the keys back because you don’t know how to drive.’”
At one point during the speech the crowd began chanting, “Yes we can!” a slogan Obama used while he campaigned for the presidency.
The president also urged Democratic voters to mail in their ballots so the work his administration and the party has done can continue.
“If everybody who fought for change in 2008 shows up in 2010, then John is going to win his election,” Obama said.
Obama charged that the GOP would repeal new health care changes designed to keep insurers from denying coverage to the sick, and cancel new rules to keep credit card companies from slapping people with hidden fees.
"We've tried that before and we're not going back," he said.
Two years ago, presidential candidate Obama drew 75,000 people to a riverfront park rally in Portland, including 15,000 who couldn't get in.
But political organizers weren't expecting such a sizable crowd for Obama's return Wednesday night, his first visit here since the campaign.
The goal was for a far more modest showing of 5,000 people at the convention center, which holds twice that number. The convention floor appeared about three-fourths full, with tightly packed crowds in front and behind the stage where Obama spoke and a wide open space behind the press section in the rear.
Oregon was the first stop on Obama's longest campaign swing of the season, a four-day, five-state blitz of fundraisers and rallies that also will take him to Washington state, California, Nevada and Minnesota.
Obama is scheduled to campaign separately with Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Barbara Boxer of California, plus Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada — Senate allies also in tight contests against their Republican challengers.
Outside the Oregon Convention Center, where the rally was held, protesters gathered to express a dislike for Obama and his policies.
"He's the wrong direction for this country," Chris Rubin, a member of the tea party movement, said before Obama arrived at the rally. "He does nothing but spend our money as if it's going out of style."
Dudley campaigns in Eastern Oregon
Meanwhile, Dudley campaigned in Eastern Oregon Wednesday and from the campaign trail he said he’s the candidate who will create jobs and those jobs will help bring Oregon’s economy back.
“Through those jobs that’s how we have new dollars for our schools, for our roads, for our hospitals (and) public safety,” he said. “That’s what we need. We need to have a place where people believe – actually believe in the American Dream or believe they can get a job. To me (that) is the Number One issue of this campaign.
Dudley published an open letter to President Obama in The Oregonian Wednesday morning. In it he applauds Obama for his efforts to reform education.
"I share your commitment to education reform and to creating incentives for school districts. And teachers to innovate and improve student achievement," Dudley wrote.
Bob Tiernan, chairman of Oregon’s Republican Party, said in a way Obama’s visit is good for Republicans.
"His visit has actually been a big boost to Republicans because it's driving people to our call centers and our volunteers are way up," he said.
He also said he doesn't think Obama's visit will have any effect come Election Day.