Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's visit to Eugene on March 21 was unique not just because he was the most high-profile political figure to visit Eugene in years, but because for the first time in recent memory, candidates have a reason to campaign for the state's primary election.
While Sen. John McCain has the Republican Party nomination virtually wrapped up (Ron Paul is still on Oregon's ballot), the heat is still on in the Democratic race, and for the first time in about 40 years, Oregon's primary election looks to have an effect on the outcome.
With seven weeks to go before the May 20 primary, candidates are starting to descend on the state. Former President Bill Clinton appeared in Oregon this weekend, and "significant representatives" from both campaigns are expected to appear at the Democratic Party of Oregon platform convention on April 11 and 12, said Frank Dixon, vice chair of the Democratic Party of Oregon.
The opportunity to have a say in who gets the presidential nomination is a rare treat that Oregonians are excited about, said Jared Mason-Gere, chair of the Democratic Party of Lane County.
"There are a lot of people who care really passionately about our government and politics and get really frustrated when things are already determined by the time it is our turn to have a say," he said.
Officials from the state and county Democratic Party say the push to register Democrats to vote is in full swing, with a large number of Republicans and Independents re-registering as Democrats.
"There's really a noticeable level of excitement and enthusiasm," Mason-Gere said. "I think people are really hungry to have a change nationally. People are really eager to get to work undoing the damage of the Bush administration."
The fact that the primary matters this year presents local and state party officials with the chance to reach out to voters and get people involved in the political process, Mason-Gere said, adding that "politics don't just happen in November, and not just in Washington, D.C."
While representatives from the state and county party offices are bound by their bylaws to remain neutral, they are busy working to help Democrats around the state pledge their support for their chosen candidates, Dixon said. Visitors to www.oregondemocrats.org can click on a photo of their chosen candidate and sign up to support or contribute to that campaign.
"This election should mean a lot to every single Oregonian," Dixon said. "The fact that we are still in play and Oregon voters have a significant role to play in electing the next president, that's very exciting and important. We're re-energizing the political process, re-energizing democracy. It's an exciting time."
Dixon, one of Oregon's 12 unpledged, or "super" delegates to the Democratic National Convention, said visitors to the Web site can also apply to be delegates to the convention. A "priority of consideration" is given to certain demographic groups, including young voters, in an effort to have a balance of delegates that represents the party, he said.
National and state party rules require the number of delegates to be gender-balanced, and the party sets goals for the number of delegates from various minority groups. The goals are based on the state demographic makeup, according to the delegate selection plan, which is posted on the state Web site.
This year, for the first time, the party has set priority goals to have delegates from the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, Dixon said.
Oregon assigns delegates to the national convention based on how each candidate fares in Congressional districts and the state as a whole. As long as a candidate receives 15 percent or more of the vote in a district he or she will receive a proportion of delegates related to the percentage of votes received. Unpledged delegates are free to vote for whomever they choose.
As one of two vice chairs (one of each gender) of the Democratic Party of Oregon, Dixon was elected to his position as an unpledged delegate by the state central committee last December.
While some of Oregon's unpledged delegates have publicly supported one candidate or another, Dixon is one of those remaining neutral until after the primary election.
"I think it's important to focus on the primary because that's a key piece in terms of coming to a decision," he said. "We want to have the focus be on the Oregon voters and this point, so we'll wait and see how they decide the issue and then consider where to go from there."
© 2008 Oregon Daily Emerald via U-WIRE