Seven years ago, when Hillary Clinton was last in Oregon running for president, an interviewer remarked that she’d gone from frontrunner for the 2008 Democratic nomination to a determined underdog campaign against Barack Obama.
In a tightly secured classroom of South Eugene High School, Clinton grinned, “Ain’t life grand?”
Fourteen years before, Clinton had come to Oregon to campaign for another fading cause, her health care overhaul, then dying a gurgling death in Congress. Still, she energetically advocated it before thousands in Pioneer Courthouse Square – leading a chant of “Pass It Now!” that seemed unlikely to sway a distant Congress – and dispatched four busloads of supporters to places with minimal interest in welcoming them.
Hillary Clinton may not always win, but it takes a lot to make her give up.
Wednesday, she’s in Oregon under somewhat more encouraging circumstances, here for a $2,700-a-pop fund-raiser – as Jeb Bush demonstrated last week, that’s why White House hopefuls come here, to a state that may soon officially redefine itself as a presidential candidate ATM – at a time when she dominates the national Democratic polls. Bernie Sanders may be rising in Iowa like a particularly assertive species of hybrid corn, and this week reporters are determinedly blowing on the faint embers of a Biden campaign, but Clinton’s polling numbers still make her the biggest non-incumbent favorite for a Democratic nomination since Andrew Jackson in 1828.
And Jackson never came to a fund-raiser in Portland.
Even after months of bumpy media coverage, and the quadrennial stories about Iowa and New Hampshire voters solemnly telling reporters they really weren’t ready to make up their minds, the most recent surveys of polls still show her leading Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders by an average of 40 points. (Adding Joe Biden to the polls doesn’t change things much.) Every Democratic governor, senator or congressman who has endorsed anybody has endorsed her, including Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader and a majority of both caucuses. Her boundless list of celebrity endorsements extends from Magic Johnson to Lady Gaga.\
Moreover, Clinton has been very diligent – as always – in cultivating the key demographics that turn out in Democratic primaries. Last weekend at the convention of the National Urban League, she directly took on Jeb Bush’s “Right to Rise” slogan minutes before Bush spoke, declaring, “They can’t rise if the minimum wage is too low to live on. You cannot seriously talk about the right to rise and support laws that deny the right to vote.”
(On the subject of voting, Clinton has also gone out of her way to praise the automatic voter registration from DMV rolls enacted by the Oregon legislature this spring, calling it a national model in contrast to many states’ going in the opposite, more restrictive direction. Oregonians may soon have to show ID not to vote.)
Sunday, Clinton endorsed President Obama’s ambitious new environmental initiative before it was even formally released, calling it, “a significant step forward in meeting the urgent threat of climate change.”
Monday, responding to the Republican congressional move to cut all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, Clinton released a video declaring, “If this feels like a full-on assault on women’s health, that’s because it is. When politicians talk about defunding Planned Parenthood, they’re talking about blocking millions of women, men and young people from live-saving preventive care.” She went on to attack Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry by name for their policies on the issue.
In Oregon, possibly the most pro-choice state in the country and the home of large numbers of tree-hugging Democratic primary voters, these could be politically fortress-like positions. On the other hand, Portland is likely to produce a sizable progressive turnout for Sanders’ first appearance here next Sunday – a Memorial Coliseum rally, not a big-ticket fund-raiser.
In this case, the stadium is the message.
With Clinton and Sanders both here within five days, Oregon is getting pre-campaign attention rare for any small state not named New Hampshire. With the state primary not until mid-May and the convention delegation not that sizable, the focus is unlikely to persist; in most presidential years, the Oregon primary is less part of the race than part of the victory lap.
Clinton is likely to be here either way.
“Part of what you have to do in campaigning for the toughest job in the world,” she said in an interview before the Oregon primary in 2008, “is show resilience, and that’s what I’ve done.”
And life is grand.
NOTE: This column appeared in The Oregonian 8/5/15.