Hillary Clinton tours unsold Oregon houses

and Julia Silverman


Hillary Clinton toured a subdivision dotted with empty lots and unsold houses Friday, one of two smaller, invite-only events that could be her final campaign stop in Oregon before the state's primary Tuesday.

Her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama, who's held a sizable lead over Clinton in polls of Oregon voters, prepared for town halls and a big rally on his weekend visit to Oregon.

Clinton met with a family in their home on Friday as she toured the subdivision with empty houses, unlikely to be sold until the economy improves and the credit crunch eases.

Owners Marv and Sandy Mehlbrech, who are retired, talked about the housing slump, the high number of foreclosures and surging gas prices during an hour-long sitdown with Clinton in the family's living room.

Sandy Mehlbrech at the end urged Clinton to remain in the race against Obama, despite his lead in pledged Democratic delegates.

"Please stay in the race," she told Clinton. "I know there are so many people that believe in you."

Mehlbrech later told reporters she had already voted for Clinton in the Oregon primary, the only state to conduct all its elections exclusively by mail.

"I don't want her to give up, even though people keep saying that it's time," Mehlbrech said.

Her husband said he admires Clinton for refusing to end her candidacy at this point, even though "the odds are really against her."

"She's not a quitter," Marv Mehlbrech said. "She's still at home plate swinging away. This is her final splash."

The visit was the start of the last scheduled day in Oregon for Clinton before the mail ballots are counted in the Tuesday primary. She planned a televised, invitation-only town hall meeting Friday night in Portland before leaving the state.

Clinton canceled her planned appearances today in Oregon, but former President Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea will campaign for her today and Sunday.

A new poll issued this past week showed Obama with a huge lead over Clinton in Oregon. The survey by Portland pollster Tim Hibbitts showed Obama leading Clinton 55 percent to 35 percent among Oregon voters surveyed &

a margin considered nearly insurmountable.

Also on Friday, the Obama campaign announced the Illinois senator will be accompanied at least on some stops by his wife, Michelle, in her first trip to Oregon of the campaign cycle.

In a conference call with Oregon reporters, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said campaign officials consider Oregon "a critical contest," and believe that a win in the state will give them the national majority of pledged delegates, who unlike superdelegates are bound to vote for a particular candidate.

He added that the campaign considers Oregon and Washington battleground states for the general election, and said the weeks spent campaigning for the primary have allowed Obama's staff to build strong ties in the state and get familiar with its unique vote-by-mail system.

"We want to be active in all the battleground states in June," Plouffe said. "There is not going to be much of an interruption here. We are going to turn right to the general election in Oregon."

The state has a high percentage of nonaffiliated voters who could not participate in Oregon's closed primaries, Plouffe noted, and the campaign will be reaching out to them, as well as former Clinton supporters.

Political analyst Jim Moore said Hillary Clinton is facing an uphill battle in Oregon, where Obama has energized Democrats and attracted independent voters to the party, even getting some crossover support from Republican voters.

"It's part of a national trend of enthusiasm for Obama," Moore said. "I'm actually kind of surprised she came back."

It's not yet clear whether Obama will be in Oregon on Tuesday, primary day, though he is scheduled to be in Florida early Wednesday morning.

He's scheduled to make a stop in Roseburg this morning. On Sunday, he will speak to seniors at an invitation-only forum in Gresham and headline a rally at Portland's Waterfront Park before heading to an evening town hall in Pendleton.

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