Politics come to area early

If Oregonians have a chance to study Republican Ron Paul's political views, most would cast their ballot for him for president in 2008, says Ashland resident Ron Chew.

"His traditional values of a limited government following the U.S. Constitution may be kind of a novel idea to some, but it's what we are supposed to be doing," Chew said of the U.S. Representative from Texas. "I think if we can get his message out, nearly everyone would end up voting for him."

But Medford resident Matt Sutton figures the best candidate hands down for the White House is Democrat Barack Obama.

"We think Senator Obama is a once in a generation candidate with a unique combination of abilities," said Sutton of the senator from Illinois.

Presidential politics are under way in Jackson County, albeit Oregon's primary election is more than six months away. Chew is spokesman for a local group supporting Paul, while Sutton heads another group solidly behind Obama.

"If you live in a political bubble like I do, it seems like it's coming tomorrow," observed Paulie Brading, chairwoman of the Jackson County Democrats, of the 2008 general election.

Bryan Platt, chairman of the Jackson County Republicans, says interest is building early in some GOP camps.

"We're traditionally not in a local (campaign) office until mid-summer in an election year," he said of his party's local central committee. "But we're going to try to move ahead of that schedule to May or maybe even a little earlier in this (2008) election."

Oregon was a battleground state in the last presidential election. In fact, President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney along with Democratic challengers John Kerry and John Edwards made stump speeches in the Rogue Valley in the months leading up to the 2004 November election.

With many states now moving up their primary elections to January or February, some political observers predict Oregon's May primary will get less attention nationally.

But Brading says there is plenty of interest among local Democrats.

"I'm looking froward to the primaries being over so that Jackson County Democrats will know who their party's nominee will be," she said.

Noting that she isn't taking a position publicly until after the primary, she feels her party has plenty of good candidates.

"Particularly the three leading candidates — Edwards, Obama and (Hillary) Clinton," she said. "Anyone of those three would make a very strong president."

Not surprisingly, Platt has a different take on which party has the better candidates. He figures the GOP already has the top candidates with potentially more in the wings. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican from Georgia, has yet to say whether he will run, he added.

"There are a lot of individuals who are supporting candidates," he said of local Republicans. "But so many people are still undecided. A lot of people feel like Oregon is off the beaten path with all this focus on early primaries."

Yet he believes Oregon as well as Jackson County will still attract big name politicians come the 2008 election.

"If the (GOP) candidate tends to represent more of the center of the political spectrum — Rudy Giuliani or John McCain perhaps — there is a more likelihood he will come to Oregon," he said.

Given the conservative reputation of the GOP in Southern Oregon, it's also likely that candidates will visit the region, he added.

"They would want to convince the conservatives of their support for the right to life and guns that means so much to conservatives down here," he said.

But Ashland resident Andy Kerr, a longtime environmental and political activist, doubts any Republican will carry Oregon. He has been named to the 13-member Oregon steering committee for Sen. Clinton, D-N.Y.

"I think she would be a very good president — Lord knows we need one now," he said.

He shrugs off those who say Clinton has a negative image that will spark support for any GOP candidate.

"If you don't have baggage, you haven't done anything," he said. "I don't think the remaining term of George Bush is going to help any Republican successor get the job. I think it's likely to be a good year for any Democrat."

Sutton, who leads Oregon South for Barack Obama, noted that more than 50 local people have already joined his group, one of more than 40 pro-Obama organizations in the state.

"This is a grass roots movement from the bottom up," said Sutton, who met Obama when he was campaigning in Portland earlier this month.

The campaign for Ron Paul is also built on grass roots politics, Chew said, noting one local meeting drew more than 60 supporters.

"Ron Paul appears to be one of the few who represents the Founding Fathers' ideology," Chew reiterated. "Compared to the liberal ideologies and that of the conservative far right, his freedom ideology invariably works out better."

Stay tuned.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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