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People squint into the late-afternoon sunshine as former President Bill Clinton speaks at a campaign rally at SOU for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. - Jim Craven

Clintons offer 1-2 punch in Ashland

Former President Bill Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea, came to Ashland Sunday to try to convince Democrats who might not have made their choice in Oregon's primary election that they should mark their ballot for Hillary Clinton.

"I'm so proud of my dad," Chelsea Clinton said, "and I think my mother would be an even better president."

Bill Clinton said Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., would be the best person to turn the economy around, bring the troops home from Iraq, restore America's standing in the world, and bring change to Washington.

"Everyone who's been president has talked about how difficult it is to turn your good intentions into things that will change people's lives," Clinton said. "Hillary's the single-best change-maker I've ever known."

A crowd of about 1,100 people stood in the sunny courtyard at Stevenson Union on the campus of Southern Oregon University to hear the Clintons. Some arrived three hours before the event's scheduled time of 5:15 p.m. to assure themselves a chance to get close to the Clintons.

"I wasn't sure what the crowds would be like and I wanted to be among the first in line," said Hilary-Morgan Watt, a student at SOU. "I really wanted to shake Bill Clinton's hand."

Watt said she thought there was still a chance for Hillary Clinton to take the Oregon primary. "I think there's still a lot of people who can be swayed. Lots of my peers aren't aware of the issues."

Some in the crowd admitted that they were supporters of Sen. Barack Obama and had already cast their ballot for the Illinois senator, but they wanted to see and hear Bill Clinton.

"If you don't walk two blocks to hear the former president speak, that's apathy," said Andy Stallman of Ashland, an Obama supporter. He and his wife, Jeanne, brought their two children, Marie and Robbie, along, too.

Oregon's vote-by-mail ballots must be returned by 8 p.m. Tuesday, and Obama led Clinton by 20 percentage points (55 to 35 percent) in a poll last week of 400 likely Democratic voters. (The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percentage points.) But Clinton supporters said she should stay in the race until a nominee emerges.

"If they didn't show up (to campaign in Oregon) that would change people's minds," said Mark Kesler of Ashland. "They need to keep pushing forward. They'd be silly not to if something happens to Obama and Hillary had already dropped out."

"I have high respect for her," said Melody Kamaunu of Ashland. "She's not giving up. That speaks volumes."

Unlike many campaign events, Sunday's rally began almost on time, with the Clintons taking the stage around 5:30 p.m.

Bill Clinton repeated the notion that Hillary Clinton would do better than Obama against presumptive Republican nominee and John McCain, and made much of her besting Obama in Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania. He said Hillary Clinton would be the best person to "restore the middle class and reclaim the future for a new generation of Americans," and he touted her commitment to renewable energy resources and wise stewardship of the environment.

He drew cheers from students in the crowd when he noted that Hillary Clinton would fight to increase the amount of Pell grants for students, make student loans cheaper and recruit the new teachers that public schools will need.

"She will make it possible for people to go to college and prevent them from dropping out because they're terrified of borrowing more money," he said.

He said Hillary Clinton would make balancing the budget a top priority. "Otherwise we will never be in control of our economic destiny.

The former president shook hands with dozens of people and singed autographs after speaking for most of an hour. As the crowd drifted away, some doubted whether he had changed any minds.

"I think he just reinforced what people were already thinking," said Bob Spurlock of Medford. "Tuesday will be a big tell-all."

At least one Obama supporter said Bill Clinton's remarks made him feel better about Hillary Clinton as a potential president.

"I'm really glad I listened to him," said Stallman, the Ashland man who brought his children to the rally. "I certainly feel better about our future. I feel a lot more informed walking away from this."

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail:bkettler@mailtribune.com

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