02-19-2017  8:08 pm      •     

MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) -- Democratic presidential hopeful candidate Sen. Barack Obama took his message of changing the old partisan politics to a conservative corner of Oregon on Saturday.
Hundreds of supporters stood in a line stretching more than 200 yards in the early morning cold to get good seats for the town hall meeting.
Recreation technician John McKellig, 54, and retired postal worker Arlene Aron, 60, both from the rural community of Applegate, showed up at 9:30 Friday night to be first in line.
"I'm interested in seeing the red state-blue state division disappear," said McKellig, who left the Republican Party and became a Democrat in 2000 after the election of President Bush. "I think we need to heal."
Terry Baker, 27, a forester recently graduated from Yale University and also from Applegate, said he was not closely following the campaign until he read Obama's speech on the need to overcome racism.
"That one speech really did it for me," he said.
Inside, some 1,500 ticket-holders crowded a former bowling alley converted into a kids' gym to ask the candidate about the economy, environmental protection, veterans benefits, stem cell research and how he manages to stay composed under the stresses of the campaign.
As Obama stood with his arms crossed over his chest, retired Air Force Gen. Merrill "Tony" McPeak, who graduated from nearby Grants Pass High School, chastised former President Bill Clinton for remarks taken to question the candidate's patriotism.
"As one who for 37 years proudly wore the uniform of our country, I'm saddened to see a president employ these tactics," said McPeak. "He of all people should know better because he was the target of exactly the same kind of tactics.
The Clinton campaign has rejected the charges, saying the former president merely meant to underscore the need to keep the presidential race focused on issues.
Obama drew his loudest applause when he pledge to get U.S. troops out of Iraq in 2009 and to give veterans the health care they need for post-traumatic stress disorder, brain injuries and other problems.
On the environment, the senator pledged to let science rather than politics guide decisions and said his first priority would be dealing with global warming with a cap-and-trade system of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
His message was convincing for motorcycle magazine editor Bart Madsen, 30, of Central Point, and his wife, community health educator Autumn Chadbourn, 27, who are expecting a daughter to be born in May.
"I wasn't sure about his experience. He's young," said Madsen as he left. "Pretty much everything he said I found myself thinking, 'Yeah, that's where I'm at.' "
Southern Oregon has long been conservative politically, though not necessarily Republican.
When Democrat John F. Kennedy was running for president in 1960, he rode as grand marshal in the back of a Lincoln convertible in the annual Pear Blossom Parade in Medford, the region's commercial center.
His brother, Robert F. Kennedy, made a speech in front of City Hall in 1968 just days before he was assassinated in California.
In those days, conservative Dixiecrats were still strong in a region where the Ku Klux Klan once thrived. The civil rights movement and the Reagan revolution drew many of them to the Republican Party, which now dominates voter registration rolls and presidential voting.
Since the collapse of the timber industry in the 1980s and 1990s in the face of federal logging cutbacks to protect the northern spotted owl, the region has seen greater economic dependence on health care and home construction, fueled by the influx of retirees. Construction has slumped since the mortgage crisis hit, but not so much as in other parts of the country.
Les Aucoin, a political blogger and former Democratic congressman from Oregon now living in Ashland, has endorsed Obama and said Friday he thought the Illinois senator's message would be well received here.
"I think his message is resonating with lunch-pail voters more than conservatism has been for the last several years," AuCoin said. "The change I see in Southern Oregon is first of all among conservative Democrats who were Reagan Democrats and even independents. Just an incredible fear of bailouts for Wall Street banks while their own personal security is crumbling. It may cost them their house and retirement, and they are feeling very vulnerable."



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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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