TWO RESULTS in Tuesday's primary elections tell us something interesting about the two major parties. They suggest that while politicians have been moving in some new directions, their party's primary voters may not be ready to follow.
sk,3 The biggest surprise was in Oregon, where Sen. Bob Packwood was seeking a fourth term just weeks after getting his breakthrough 27 percent tax plan through the Senate Finance Committee he chairs. Yet he won just 57 percent of the vote -- a dangerously low showing in a primary -- against an underfinanced, inexperienced candidate who focused on opposition to abortion. Mr. Packwood was a fitting target, as one of the Senate's most effective opponents of abortion curbs, who says half of his large campaign treasury comes from people who oppose such curbs. His opponent's showing demonstrates how strong traditional cultural stands are among Republican primary voters, even in supposedly laid-back Oregon. It's a warning to candidates for the 1988 Republican nomination -- if they need any.
sk In Pennsylvania, the Democratic Senate primary between Rep. Bob Edgar and Auditor General Don Bailey was expected to be close, and it was: Mr. Edgar won 47 percent to 45 percent. Mr. Bailey ran as "your kind of Democrat," a Vietnam veteran outspokenly in favor of that war, against abortion and eager to "discipline our trading partners." His backers expected him to win in blue-collar Pennsylvania. But he was beaten by Mr. Edgar, a Methodist minister and Vietnam war opponent who first won in the Watergate year of 1974 and, representing a suburban Republican district, has compiled one of the House's most liberal voting records. Mr. Edgar does have a steely determination, however, which enabled him to raise money from environmentalists and win the endorsements of the AFL-CIO and the United Steelworkers, and he has a serious chance of beating Sen. Arlen Specter in November. So Republican primary voters, even in a state with a progressive Republican tradition such as Oregon's, seem more interested in opposing abortion than boosting tax reform, and Democratic primary voters, even in old-fashioned blue-collar Pennsylvania, prefer a liberal opponent of the Vietnam war to a Rambo-like figure ready to crack down on trade. There's a tension here, that may be an inevitable part of the political process: politicians want to innovate, but the party faithful prefer to stick with what's familiar.