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Clinton Visits Portland, Vows To Boost Schools 20,000 Turn Out To See President; Poll Shows He Has Big Lead In Oregon

Brad Cain Associated Press

Buoyed by a new poll showing him with a big lead in Oregon, President Clinton pumped up a crowd of 20,000 people Friday with a campaign pledge to build a bridge to a future in which all schoolchildren have access to computers and all Americans can afford to go to college.

Clinton, accompanied by his wife, Hillary, Vice President Al Gore and Tipper Gore, clearly enjoyed addressing what he called the “sea of people” who turned out for his fourth Portland appearance in as many years.

“Maybe I’ve come back here so often because I like it,” Clinton told the cheering supporters who jammed into Lownsdale Square and adjoining Chapman Square.

The crowd included thousands of children, with parents or school groups.

“It’s way cool,” said Grace Kersting, 8, standing with her mother and 7-year-old brother. “My teacher told us it’s an honor to see the president.”

The president drew some of his loudest applause when he emphasized education and the importance of making sure America’s young people are given the opportunity to succeed.

“We ought to be lifting our students and teachers up, not running down teachers,” he said, in an apparent reference to Republican nominee Bob Dole’s criticism of teacher unions.

Clinton also praised Oregon’s efforts to innovate in such areas reducing teen pregnancy and increasing rates of immunization against childhood diseases.

“Oregon has led the way in proving that you can have a government that works for people,” he said.

The president also used his speech to recount the successes of his “reinventing government” initiatives and promised that if re-elected, he would make even more far-reaching changes. He introduced a new book on reinventing government authored by Vice President Al Gore and announced changes in the White House Internet home page to make government services more convenient.

Clinton last visited Portland in February, after he took a helicopter tour of Northwest flood damage.

“I’ll never forget what I saw here last spring,” the president said. “The pioneering spirit is alive and well in Oregon.”

The Northwest bus trip was seen as an effort to cement the president’s hold on Washington and Oregon, which helped him sweep the West Coast in 1992. A new poll showed Clinton holding a 13-point lead over Dole in Oregon.

As Friday’s Portland rally began, hundreds of people still were waiting at security checkpoints to go through metal detectors.

Liz McKee, a 20-year-old junior at George Fox College, rushed in after waiting in line for three hours.

“I’ve been waiting my whole life to see this man and I’m very, very excited,” she said. “I heard the people cheering and I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to miss him.”’

Clinton’s bus pulled up to the rally about 9:30 a.m., 30 minutes late. The president began speaking at 10:10 a.m. and spoke about 20 minutes before going into the crowd to shake hands.

Clinton arrived in Portland Thursday night after a daylong bus tour along the Interstate 5 corridor in Washington state.

Besides the 20,000 who turned out for the Portland rally, the Secret Service estimated that Clinton met with crowds of more than 60,000 during his trip through Washington state.

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