After nearly seven years of President Bush, Oregon Democrats ache to choose a presidential nominee who can win in 2008.

But with Oregon's primary not until May 20—long after the contest will probably be decided—candidates aren't making Oregon a regular stop. The last Democratic candidate to visit was former Sen. John Edwards last month.

"We have a participatory democracy, but we aren't participating," says Richard Rosenhaft, a 62-year-old retired art teacher living in Portland. "We need to be our own activists."

Rosenhaft's response? Organizing a question-and-answer session last Sunday for those Oregon D's hungering to get in on the action and differentiate between the candidates. He couldn't get any candidates to leave Iowa or New Hampshire for Oregon, or even any of their campaign reps, so he got their local supporters. And to do even that, he had to register as a supporter of all of the Democratic campaigns in order to contact locals who'd be willing to speak.

"I went about it in a backdoor kind of way," Rosenhaft says.

The two-hour "Who Do You Want in '08?" forum hosted by Voter Connection, a grassroots progressive action group, drew about 75 people to the basement at First Unitarian Church in Southwest Portland.

Local supporters of the campaigns of Hillary Clinton, Edwards, Dennis Kucinich, Barack Obama and Bill Richardson fielded questions about their candidates and their stances on such issues as global warming, civil rights, the Iraq war and health care. Rosenhaft couldn't find anyone to speak on behalf of Chris Dodd, Mike Gravel or Joe Biden.

For some, listening to such supporters as City Commissioner Erik Sten (for Clinton) or Becky Dougan (for Richardson) give one-minute answers to how their candidates stand on global warming, for instance, didn't deliver much.

"There wasn't a lot of detail in this," says Chris Rahm, a 33-year-old therapist.

And others, such as Dick Mase, a 78-year-old retired counselor, already knew who they supported. Mase came and left supporting Obama.

"I've been waiting for a candidate like him for 50 years," Mase said, comparing Obama to FDR. "But I'm still glad I came. I don't know as much about the other candidates as I'd like to."

Rosenhaft came away feeling the event was worthwhile, saying, in a good way, "It felt small-town."


The last Republican contender to visit Oregon was former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani on Oct. 1. No word when Republicans will have his doppelgänger and others in for a Q&A.