A good speaker knows his audience. So when President Obama
led off his nearly 35-minute speech Wednesday night at the Oregon Convention Center
by noting his best friend from high school lives in Eugene and is a "big Ducks fan" and his brother-in-law, Craig Robinson, coaches the Oregon State Beavers men's basketball team, he pretty much owned the crowd that had already greeted him like a rock star.
"I've got a special place in my heart for Oregon," Obama said, recalling the 70,000-person audience who rallied for him on the Willamette River when he ran for president in 2008.
A hoarse, jocular Obama closed an evening rally for Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Kitzhaber
that went off largely without a hitch. Although he never mentioned GOP gubernatorial candidate Chris Dudley by name, the president attacked Republicans aggressively less than two weeks before the Nov. 2 election.
"The basis of their campaign is amnesia," he said to a crowd that Democratic Party of Oregon spokeswoman Amy Wojcicki estimated at more than 10,000. "But we haven't got amnesia and we haven't forgot how we got here."
In the most powerful section of his address, Obama compared the country to a car Republicans drove into a ditch, "a deep ditch, muddy and hot, with lots of bugs."
Democrats, Obama said, including him and Oregon's congressional Democrats, piled into the ditch and began pushing the car out. "We look up and Republicans are just standing there watching. We say, 'come on down and help''' Obama said. "But they just stand there and say 'you're not pushing hard enough."
"Finally, we get the car out of the ditch and the Republicans tap us on the shoulder—they want the car," Obama continued. "But we tell them you can't have the keys because you don't know how to drive."
Then in his best laugh line of the night, Obama observed, "if you want to go forward in a car, you put it in 'D'; if you want to go backward, you put it in 'R.'"
Obama recognized U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer and David Wu, all of whom preceded him on stage. He also recognized other Democrats such as Secretary of State Kate Brown, Treasurer Ted Wheeler and Attorney General John Kroger. State Rep. Jefferson Smith (D-Portland) kicked off the evening. Conspicuous in his absence from the stage was Portland Mayor Sam Adams.
Obama spent the last half of his remarks on the reason he came—to fire up the base. In Oregon, registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by 205,000 voters out of a total of just over 2 million voters.
"If everybody shows up to vote who voted in 2008, John [Kitzhaber] wins," Obama said.
Afterwards, Kitzhaber, who surprised many onlookers by donning a tie for the evening (although he still wore jeans), said having an energized Obama come to Portland was a coup.
"This was a tremendous boost for us," Kitzhaber told reporters.
Obama flies to Seattle tonight, followed by stops in California and Nevada. An aide confirmed that virtually all of his other campaign stops will be in aid of federal candidates, rather than state officials.
"That's a pretty big deal for Kitzhaber," says Pacific University political science professor Jim Moore. "Clearly, the president sees the Oregon governor's race as important."
Moore said the event raises two questions: Will Obama's visit help fire up a lethargic Democratic base? And will Kitzhaber's campaign capitalize on the evening?
"Can Kitzhaber get an ad up in the next couple of days that shows him with Obama?" Moore said. "He's got to actually do something with all of this."
(Photo by Vivian Johnson.)