Supporters call for unity; Clinton backers say she will continue.

Supporters of Barack Obama celebrated his Oregon victory Tuesday night as it pushed him closer to the Democratic presidential nomination despite a trouncing earlier in the day in Kentucky by rival Hillary Clinton.

"I've been waiting for 40 years for a candidate like this," said Marc Ratner of Ashland, who gathered with about 50 other Democrats at Donnelly's Bar and Grill in Lava Lanes in Medford. "This is really not just putting him over the top. This balances out what she's achieved in Kentucky and West Virginia."

Late in the evening, Obama led Clinton 58 to 42 percent statewide. In Jackson County, he was faring slightly better, with 59.4 percent to Clinton's 39.6 percent.

The latest victory doesn't seal the Democratic presidential bid for the Illinois senator, who is still shy of enough delegates to clinch the nomination.

Only 86 delegates are at stake in the remaining three primaries, Montana, South Dakota and Puerto Rico.

Ratner, 82, said Obama has been fully tested now, standing up to not only Clinton but taking on direct challenges from both John McCain, the apparent Republican nominee, and President Bush.

Ratner said Obama has run a masterful campaign that will translate well into how he runs the country. "He has an honesty and directness that is really missing in Washington," he said.

Obama's charisma also appeals to Central Point resident Kristi Gabriel. "This is the first time I ever got involved in a campaign," said the 57-year-old, who was formerly an independent voter before switching to the Democratic Party.

She said she canvassed for the Obama campaign and found that 80 percent of the people she talked to in Jacksonville and the Hillcrest Road area in east Medford were fans of her candidate.

Gabriel hopes the rivalry ends soon between Obama and Clinton to help bring unity back to the party.

She questioned Clinton's viability as a candidate since she is more than $20 million in debt. "The question is how financially supported is she?" Gabriel said.

Margaret Dibb, 56, of Medford said her mother, a lifelong Republican who died recently, was a supporter of Obama. "I'm going to carry on that support for Obama in her memory," she said.

With ancestors from West Virginia, Dibb said she understands that the mind-set in that state and Kentucky is a lot different than Oregon. With that in mind, she said she was reasonably happy with the outcome of the elections in those states.

Dibb, who was selling T-shirts that stated "Another Mama for Obama," said the Illinois senator has been respectful of Clinton and paid her tribute in a speech Tuesday night indicating a softening in rhetoric on both sides.

"I'm not sure how I feel about her staying in the race," she said. "She has every right to do so."

Clinton supporters said her win in Kentucky shows she remains a powerhouse contender who will ultimately prove she can surpass Obama in the vote that matters.

"She should win it by the popular vote," predicted Eagle Point resident Holly Brush. "The American people's vote counts and not the superdelegate bull——."

Because Clinton's still in the race, 50-year-old Brush said, "She's made Oregon matter."

Brush, who manned phone banks encouraging people to get out and vote Tuesday, said Clinton's a candidate who won't let her supporters down no matter how tough the odds are and no matter how much Obama assumes he's the nominee.

"This is not over until the last dog dies," she said.

Her friend, Laura Aho of Rogue River, said Clinton will not disappoint. "It's not over until she says it's over."

Aho, who was in tears after learning of Clinton's Kentucky win, predicted that a victor would be chosen in June after all the primaries are concluded.

Medford resident Marina Kendig said Clinton is the fulfillment of the dream of bringing women's rights to Americans, particularly universal health care, day care in the workplace and more rights for mothers and their children.

"Now, with Hillary there could be a dialogue," said Kendig, a Spanish professor at Southern Oregon University.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.