HILLSBORO &

In her first visit to Oregon as a presidential candidate, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton promised that the state's voters would get their chance to weigh in on the hotly contested Democratic race in May.




"I am a fighter," Clinton told a crowd of about 2,600 at Liberty High School in Hillsboro, as thousands more watched her speech in an overflow room. "I happened to believe this country is worth fighting for. And I also believe that you don't make difficult, consequential change in America merely by wishing for it and hoping for it."




Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama are both vying for their party's nomination, in a contest that's lasted far longer than predicted. Oregon's May 20 primary is one of the last in the nation, and the state's voters had expected to find themselves on the sideliness.




Instead, both campaigns have descended on the state. The Obama campaign has opened five offices in Oregon so far, and the candidate headlined a series of rallies in the Willamette Valley last month. On Saturday, Clinton also spoke at an afternoon town hall of about 2,500 people at South Eugene High School, and promised she'd be returning to Oregon.




Clinton also made a point of nodding to Oregon-centric issues, dedicating a portion of her speech to her opposition to siting floating terminals for storage and delivery of natural gas on or near the Oregon Coast &

an issue on which she differs somewhat with her highest-profile supporter in Oregon, Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who introduced her.




Though Clinton and Kulongoski think the ultimate authority over siting the terminals should rest with the states, and not with federal regulators, Clinton told the crowd she was fighting one such proposed terminal in Long Island Sound. Kulongoski, though he has asked federal regulators to study all alternatives to supplying natural gas to Oregon, has said the state's energy portfolio could benefit from the addition of natural gas.




Clinton also drew on Oregon's reputation as an environmentally aware state, saying the state was a role model for several of her priorities, via its growing wind power industry and its reputation for energy efficient building projects. She promised investments in "green manufacturing," and said such new programs would be partially paid for by removing tax subsidies for big oil companies.




But some of the audience's biggest cheers were reserved for national issues, like her promise to crack down on loan companies that charge sky-high interest rates to students, and her statement that if elected, she'd hope to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq within two months. Though polls show Oregon tilting toward Obama, Hillsboro and other Portland suburbs could prove fertile territory for her, with a more moderate population than in the downtown urban core.




"I have never voted before &

in junior high, I decided I wouldn't vote until a woman ran," said Hillsboro resident Olivia Leon, who owns a small business. "And here I am. I have waited 50 years for this."




Leon said she remembered Bill Clinton's presidency with affection, and said she had admired Hillary Clinton's "patience" as First Lady, and her loyalty to her husband, even in hard times.




"That won't change when she runs the country," Leon said.




Janice Erickson, an office manager who lives in Washington County, said she was a lifelong Republican who had switched her registration in order to be able to vote in the Democratic primary, after becoming disillusioned with Arizona Sen. John McCain's stance on immigration and the war &

though after the race, she said she'll switch back and support U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith's bid for re-election.




She hadn't made up her mind between Clinton and Obama yet, Erickson added, but she was leaning toward Clinton.




"I think it is time for a female president, time to shake up the good-old boys," she said.




Not everyone who came to hear her speak was a fan, though. In Eugene, University of Oregon political science student Curtis Haley, 20, confronted Clinton, saying he was an Obama supporter.




"Is electing a Democrat the most important thing to you, and is there anything you or your surrogates said that might have hurt Senator Obama?" Haley asked.




The audience booed, but Clinton took it in stride, telling Haley that, "There have been some things &

believe it or not &

said about me. I don't take any of it personally, and I don't take most of it seriously. That is what happens in politics. If you can't stand the heat, don't run for president."




She said that in the end, the protracted battle for the nomination would result in a stronger Democratic party, citing all the new voters that the race has attracted. In Oregon alone, more than 10,000 Republicans and non-affiliated voters have switched their registration to Democrat in the last two months.




Clinton's speeches also included brief nods to Oregon elected officials and superdelegates. She told the Eugene crowd that she was working with U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden to restore federal payments to timber-dependent counties, and hinted in Hillsboro that though U.S. Rep. Darlene Hooley is retiring from her Congressional seat, she might find work in a Clinton administration.