CENTRAL POINT &

Hoarse from a cross-country campaign trip through three states, Sen. Hillary Clinton told die-hard supporters in southern Oregon on Thursday night she would keep running for president, and pressed her opponent to debate on Oregon issues.

Sen. Barack Obama was to campaign through Oregon on Friday and Saturday, and Clinton said it would be a great time to debate while Oregonians consider how to cast mail ballots that are already hanging on refrigerators in households across the state. The ballots will be counted May 20.

Clinton was slated to speak Friday about health care at Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland.

"Those of you who have already made up your mind to support me, send it in," Clinton told a cheering crowd of about 1,200, in a pavilion of the Jackson County fairgrounds. "If you think you've made up your mind to support my opponent, wait awhile. Keep thinking. Keep waiting for that debate."

Clinton, who was introduced by Gov. Ted Kulongoski, repeated portions of her Oregon Compact, saying she favored restoring federal payments to timber-dependent counties, and criticized Obama for voting for an energy bill that took away states' authority over siting liquefied natural gas terminals. She also called for thinning forests to provide jobs and reduce the danger of wildfire.

Obama has not risen to the debate bait, saying they have had ample opportunity to discuss issues in repeated televised confrontations.

After a narrow Clinton win in Indiana and a strong Obama win in North Carolina, Clinton's chances of winning enough delegates to claim the nomination were dwindling, putting newfound importance on the 52 pledged delegates to be apportioned by Oregon voters.

Apologizing for being late after campaign stops in West Virginia and South Dakota, Clinton made light of the long odds against her.

"I apologize. We were kind of flying against the wind," she said. "But that's the story of my life. Flying against the wind, you'll get there eventually."

Clinton spoke after a fundraising stop in nearby Ashland, a stronghold of liberal Democrats in this conservative corner of Oregon that lost jobs as national forest logging was cut back under her husband, former President Bill Clinton, in the 1990s.

After it became apparent the crowd would not fill the pavilion, venue staff packed up about 50 of the folding chairs.

Retired nurse Barb Geisler, 70, of Phoenix, said she hoped Clinton would keep running to the last primary in June, even though she saw no way the New York senator could overcome Obama's delegate lead.

"Sometimes when women are that strong, it's taken as a negative, and I don't want to see that happen to her," she said. "I'd like to see her go all the way, but I think Obama would be OK, too."

Retired Lutheran minister Robert Larson, 70, of Medford and retired electrician Danny Miller, 69, of Butte Falls agreed, saying Clinton presented the best chance to elect a woman president for years to come.

Larson added that he did not feel Clinton's remarks about holding stronger support among white people was racially divisive.

"I don't know how she wins at this point in time, but I support her," said Larson. "I think it's almost natural that black people vote for Obama. I don't think she's playing the card. I just think she's being truthful."

Jackson County is 93 percent white, according to the 2006 census, and the crowd that cheered Clinton was almost entirely white.

Larson, Miller and his wife, Terry Miller, 62, a homemaker, said they would have no trouble voting for Obama, and derided pundits who have worried the continued primary battle endangered the Democratic Party.

"They don't have any faith in the American people," Mrs. Miller said. "That's a straight out slap to the American voter."

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Supporters nearly filled the 1,200-seat Olsrud Arena at the Jackson County Expo Thursday night to hear Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.

Kira Rubenthaler | Daily Tidings