PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Stumping through Oregon on behalf of his wife's candidacy, former President Bill Clinton promised the state's voters Monday that the contest would continue through their May 20 primary.
"The way Oregon votes may determine who the Democratic nominee is going to be," Clinton told about 150 cheering senior citizens at a community center on Portland's fringes. "It's a big test for Democrats this year, whether everyone will get a chance to vote, and every vote will be counted."
Clinton's two-day visit included stops in Medford, Salem and Bend and came on the heels of a sweep down the Willamette Valley by Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who is challenging New York Sen. Hillary Clinton for the presidential nomination.
Hillary Clinton herself is expected to campaign in Oregon soon, members of her steering committee said Monday, perhaps as early as next week.
In recent days, calls for Hillary Clinton to drop out intensified, as prominent Democrats worried that the Clinton-Obama contest could go all the way to the party's convention in August, leaving the nominee only nine weeks to focus on the general election and Republican Sen. John McCain.
But the voters who swarmed the former president after his Oregon speeches, asking him to autograph everything from their driver's licenses to yellowing posters from a 1992 appearance he made in Portland, said such calls are premature.
"Just try to take the voters away from her," sniffed Norma Schacher, 85, a retiree who came to the East Portland Community Center to hear Bill Clinton. "It will never work."
Clinton picked up the theme again during an afternoon speech at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, urging the crowd to ignore those who claim Obama has the nomination sewn up
"Don't you believe she can't win the nomination ... because she will," Clinton said. Then, in a thinly-veiled reference to his wife's competitor, he added: "Some people do great talks, some people take action. That's what you want a president to do: make something good happen for America."
While in Oregon, Clinton did no fundraising, but did some lobbying. Several of the state's uncommitted superdelegates were summoned to meet with him at the Benson Hotel in Portland on Monday morning. They are party leaders or elected officials who can vote for whomever they'd like, and whose votes may end up deciding the nomination.
"He was full of facts and figures, and how she could win, and why it would work," said superdelegate Jenny Greenleaf of Portland. "But he didn't ask specifically (for our votes). He understands, as party officers, we don't want to be seen as favoring one campaign over the other."
Greenleaf said the Clinton campaign plans to open offices in Gresham and Beaverton in addition to downtown Portland, signaling that the campaign hopes for a heavy suburban vote to counter what's expected to be strong support for Obama from Portland's core.
Only three of Oregon's 12 superdelegates have thrown their support to a candidate: Gov. Ted Kulongoski and U.S. Rep. Darlene Hooley for Clinton, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer for Obama.
Both sides would love to announce the support of U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, whose chief of staff is on Clinton's Oregon steering committee. But Wyden has said he wants to remain neutral, in hopes of convincing both candidates to work on his health care reform proposal.
In his Oregon appearances, Bill Clinton stuck to themes guaranteed to win favor with the Democratic faithful, including the need for energy independence and changes in the management of Iraq war policy.
Creating jobs was key to improving the sagging national economy, he told about 500 people at Oregon Health & Science University.
"In the next decade, the big thing to generate jobs is advances in biotechnology," he said. "But we won't get there if we don't stop wasting so much money on financing health care."
About 16 percent of the country's gross domestic product is spent on health care costs, he said. His wife supports health care reforms that could save $700 billion per year on the system, he said.
As president, Bill Clinton said, his wife would want to see vehicles that could get 100 miles to the gallon, and he criticized the relatively small amount of money spent on retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency.
His message seemed to be resonating. Ken Whitmire, a real estate agent from the Portland suburbs, said he and his wife arrived at the community center at 7 a.m. to hear Clinton, who didn't start speaking until past noon.
"Obama, I am worried about him under pressure," Whitmire said. "He might not do as well as I know Hillary can do."
Others said that in their minds, a vote for Hillary Clinton was a vote for her husband, too, and a return to what many of them view as halcyon days for the United States.
"I feel like we are going to get two for the price of one," Schacher said. "And the way our country is right now, we need it."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)