Primary election results most recently from Georgia and before that from California puncture the Washington conventional wisdom which holds that unrestricted support for legal abortion represents a political "silver bullet" that almost guarantees a candidate's victory. Voters in both states gave that theory a severe drubbing.

Consider first the Aug. 7 Democratic run-off primary for governor of Georgia, where former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young is a distinct underdog to Lt. Gov. Zell Miller. In the first primary, all polls showed Young and Miller running neck and neck going into the final week. That was when Andy Young's campaign chose to trumpet endorsements of him by the Georgia branches of the National Organization for Women and the National Abortion Rights Action League and then relied almost exclusively on a paid TV spot that promoted Young as the strongest "abortion rights" candidate who would veto any Louisiana-type law. On Election Day, Young finished a poor second to Miller in the gubernatorial primary and among women voters. Abortion failed to turn the trick in Georgia.

The explanation that Miller, a white, defeated Young, a black, solely on the basis of race ignores the facts that Miller in a crowded primary field won approximately 20 percent of the black vote in Atlanta while Young won at least 20 percent of the white vote in the greater Atlanta area. Three black Georgia state senators endorsed Miller. Moreover, in a 1977 special election for Young's House seat after Young had been appointed U.N. ambassador, Miller had supported John Lewis, a decorated and wounded hero of the civil rights movement, against former Atlanta city council president and current U.S. Sen. Wyche Fowler, who is white. Fowler beat Lewis in 1977, but Lewis won the House seat in 1986 when Fowler went to the Senate. Today Lewis, recalling Miller's support, is neutral in the governor's race.

Miller's advocacy of the state lottery to fund education was popular with voters in the primary, where, totally reversing a southern trend, Democratic turnout was up more than 80 percent over 1986. All-out support for legalized abortion, including repeal of the Georgia law requiring parental notification when a teenager seeks an abortion (which the less pro-choice Miller insists on retaining), did not carry the day for Young. That this may be news to you could be explained in part by David Shaw's landmark four-part series on media coverage of abortion in the Los Angeles Times in early July.

After interviews with more than 100 reporters and extensive analysis of abortion coverage by the network nightly news as well as that of The Washington Post, New York Times and his own paper over an 18-month period, Shaw found "scores of examples, large and small, that can only be characterized as unfair to the opponents of abortion, either in content, tone, choice of language, or prominence of play."

In March of this year, The Post's in-house critic, Richard Harwood, wrote with much candor and more than a little courage in his column that "close textual analysis would reveal that all things considered, our {The Post} news coverage has favored the 'pro-choice' side."

Such a tilt is by no means limited to The Post. As respected pro-choice Republican political consultant Doug Bailey told Shaw, "When abortion-rights supporters win, it is perhaps more easily accepted than it should be that their pro-choice position was the reason; and when pro-life candidates win, it is more easily accepted than it should be that abortion was irrelevant to the outcome."

Bailey's theory could help explain why most readers believe voters in Cutting Edge, Calif., are categorical supporters of any and all legalized abortion. Primary results from the Golden State paint a much different picture.

In the June 5 primary, according to Daniel Weintraub of the Los Angeles Times, "Abortion was a prominent issue in eight assembly {state legislative} races. Antiabortion candidates won seven of those races." Robin Schneider, director of the Abortion Rights Action League's Southern California office, frankly conceded that abortion is "not a miracle issue."

If this is bad news for Democrats, for Republicans dispatches from the abortion front are even worse. Since last summer's Supreme Court decision returning the abortion issue partially to the states, Republican politicians, who had picked up pro-life support on the cheap by endorsing an unattainable constitutional amendment, have been singing a much different tune. Flip-flops have followed trims, and shilly-shallying has given way to craven wavering. For many ambivalent voters, a big majority of whom believe the abortion decision ought to be made by the woman and her doctor, and a smaller majority of whom believe abortion is murder, abortion has become largely a character issue. The chameleon candidate who wobbles on this issue will most often lose.

On the politics of abortion, Republican cowardice has been as unappealing as Democratic myopia has been wrong. And the press has too often revealed a rooting interest.