Thanks to Texas and Ohio, it looks like Oregon will be in play in the Democratic presidential race.
The state's primary isn't until May 20, one of the last in the nation, and most political insiders assumed the fight between Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama would be decided long before then. But then Clinton won Tuesday in Texas and Ohio . And on Wednesday, both campaigns made it clear that Oregon was now firmly on their radar screen.
Josh Kardon, who is chairing the Clinton campaign in Oregon, said he spoke with Clinton's political director Wednesday morning.
"He confirmed that we are in play, and Hillary Clinton is going to run a vigorous campaign in Oregon," Kardon said.
Kardon serves as chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, who is staying neutral in the primary for now. But other Oregon politicians have jumped into the race, including Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Portland, who will be overseeing the Obama campaign in Oregon.
"I am quite confident we will see the senator before the ballots go out," Blumenauer said. "I haven't seen anything like this since 1968, the last time that an Oregon presidential primary was that important."
Both campaigns must contend with Oregon's unique vote-by-mail system, which will put ballots in the hands of voters a full three weeks before the votes are tallied May 20.
Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, a Democrat, predicts voter turnout in Oregon will go "through the roof," mirroring patterns in other states. That expected spike should spill over to the other contested primaries on the May ballot, forcing those campaigns to spend more money and time on voter outreach.
Only registered Democrats will see Clinton and Obama's names show up on their primary ballots. Meredith Wood Smith, the chair of the Democratic Party of Oregon, said her organization would launch a drive to persuade nonaffiliated voters to register as Democrats so that they could vote in the contest.
At stake in the Oregon primary are 52 Democratic delegates. The state is also home to 12 so-called "superdelegates" who can vote for whomever they please at the Democratic convention in Denver in August.
Including Blumenauer, just three of those delegates have endorsed a presidential candidate; the other two, Rep. Darlene Hooley and Gov. Ted Kulongoski, are siding with Clinton.
Kulongoski's support could be critical, Kardon said, especially after Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland was credited with giving Clinton a huge boost in his state.
But it's the Obama campaign that has raised more money in Oregon so far &
$592,767 to $268,593, according to the latest numbers from the Federal Election Commission. Obama also appears to have a more energized volunteer presence in Oregon; just last weekend, Blumenauer said, Oregon supporters organized 36 house parties across the state for their candidate.
Though some Democrats nationally have worried that Clinton and Obama are wasting valuable time and resources battling each other instead of the Republican candidate, Sen. John McCain, Bradbury said he thought the long primary was a blessing in plain sight.
"There will continue to be intense media attention on the Democratic candidates," Bradbury said. "It is sort of going to become for the next couple of months, 'John who?' That will serve us well, going into the fall."
Before Oregon, Clinton and Obama will battle it out in Wyoming, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Indiana and West Virginia. The results of those contests could influence the Oregon vote, but current polling suggests Obama has the edge in the state.
"It is clear that Senator Clinton is going to need to come from behind in this state," Kardon said. "Oregonians have an open mind, they do their homework, and I believe they will give Sen. Clinton a chance to make her case."
Clinton, Obama campaigns headed Oregon's way