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Obama's Pendleton Town Hall Has Distinct Flavor

This is Ethan Lindsey in Pendleton.

Yep, that's right, Oregon's cowboy country, home to the Pendleton Round-Up rodeo.

3500 people turned up at town hall to hear Senator Barack Obama.

PendletonJohn Bullock is a college student who grew up in La Grande. He saw Obama speak at a huge rally earlier this year, and says the town hall has a different feel.

John Bullock: “Definitely a lot more intimate. Less about the signs and yelling. It was really great to see him at the speech before. But it was basically the big broad terms that we all here.”

In the past month, it's Senator Hillary Clinton who has been speaking most directly about rural, working-class people. Like the 17,000 residents of Pendleton.

Former President Bill Clinton has made stops in many rural parts of the state, including Baker City and Bend. Mr. Clinton and his daughter Chelsea were in Ashland on Sunday.

But Obama is the first major presidential candidate in 20 years to cross over the Cacades.

And he did it twice.

Last weekend, he talked about mountain biking in Bend  - and rodeos in Pendleton.

Barack Obama: “If we can be in Oregon sometime in September, that round-up sounds pretty fun. But let me tell you, I will not be riding a bull. You will not see me on a bull. I had enough trouble bowling.” 

The unexpected primary importance of Oregon this year has thrust a number of unexpected issues to the fore of the presidential campaign.

PendletonIn Roseburg, Obama was asked for his opinion on Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law - he'd let it stand. In Pendleton, he was queried about the clean-up of toxic waste stored at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation across the river in Washington.

Barack Obama: “Here's something you will rarely hear from a politican, I am not entirely familiar with the Hanford site. And so I don't know exactly what's going on there.”

Oregon's presidential primary hasn't mattered for 40 years.

And hardly any candidate ever makes it to Eastern Oregon sparse population.

Reverend Jesse Jackson visited Bend in 1988, twenty years after the last candidate — Robert Kennedy in 1968.

Barack Obama: “And now that I am learning about Hanford, is it? We will immediately start looking into that, so when I am President, next time I come, I will be able to give you a plan about how we're going to deal with it.”

Obama didn't mention Hillary Clinton once. And he continued to hammer on a key foreign policy disagreement with presumptive Republican nominee John McCain.

McCain chimed in last week after President George Bush said that the next U.S. president should not negotiate with the leaders of Iran.

Barack Obama: “This is going to be a major debate that we have with George Bush and John McCain and the Republicans this fall.”

Obama spoke for a little more than an hour, before flying to Montana to stump for votes there.

Oregon will share the presidential primary spotlight with Kentucky. But Obama won't be in either state.

His campaign says he will speak from Iowa, where reports say he will claim he has officially wrapped up the nomination — with Oregon votes.