The proud Oregon primary has been reduced this year to a game of give away by the forces of President Carter and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).
Like a patriarch outdistanced by his own progency, the Oregon primary -- the pioneer in popular selection of presidential nominees -- has been pushed into near-oblivion by the profusion of 35 other contests before and after its anniversary this Tuesday.
The symptom of neglect -- a sharp stick in the eye of the state's pride -- was the failure of the Carter campaign even to submit the requested statement of candidacy for the Oregon voters' pamphlet, the compilation of candidate biographies and issue positions the state mails to every voter.
So far as the cherished handbook of Oregon politics is concerned, the only candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination this year are Kennedy and California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr.
But if the Carter campaign cut the state to the quick by missing the deadline for the voters' pamphlet, Kennedy rubbed salt in the wound by dumping most of his Oregon campaign schedule to spend more time in California.
After announcing a three-day campaign tour for the last part of the week, the campaign was slashed on Monday to a 21-hour stay that wound up Friday night.
Not to be outdone in snubs, the Carter campaign sent its chief surrogate, Vice President Mondale, here for a blitz that began at 1:40 p.m. today and concluded at 3:30 p.m.
The result is a huge undecided vote, a sense that presidential politics has passed Oregon by -- and a bad case of injured pride.
"We think we're important here," said Ed Leek, the Kennedy coordinator, who had his introduction to Oregon politics back in 1968, when Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy fought a classic battle here. "But no one on the national staff seems to think so."
As Leek and other local Kennedy supporters saw it, Oregon was made to order for planting the senator's battle flag on the Pacific Ocean and giving him a psychological boost for the June 3 showdown with Carter in California. "This was a winnable situation with a reasonable investment of time and money," Leek said.
Carter lost Oregon twice in 1976 -- to Sen. Frank Church of Idaho in the Democratic primary and to Gerald R. Ford in the general election. The state's unemployment rate -- 8 percent -- is 1 point above the national average, and rising. High interest rates have brought severe shutdowns in the housing and forest products industry. Even the Olympic boycott works against Carter in Eugene, the "running capital" of the country and the site of the Olympic trials.
"We had the psychological edge here 10 days ago," Leek lamented on the day the Washington office cut Kennedy's campaign time by two-thirds. "The Carter people were thoroughly disheartened. They thought they were going to lose. But that argument feel on deaf ears with our national headquarters. They have no overall strategy. They just lurch from crisis to crisis and week to week."
What makes Kennedy's situation less than hopeless is the fact that the Carter campaign seems lethargic, too.
If Carter has any edge in the state, it may stem from the work of Portland's popular former mayor, Neil Goldschmidt, named last summer as secretary of transportation. Goldschmidt was back in the state for four days last week, drumming up support for the president.
"He called an awful of people," said Art Johnson, Kennedy's state co-chairman. "His telephone ear must have been sore when he went back to Washington."
A Republican campaign consultant with a wife in the Carter campaign said, "There's little enthusiasm for the administration as such. The best thing Carter has going for him is Goldschmidt. There's a strong feeling in Portland and Eugene [where Goldschmidt grew up and went to college] that they don't want him embarrassed."
But Oregon itself is embarrassed -- and vexed -- that it is being overlooked this time around.
Oregon has become a place where candidates take whatever portion of the 39 delegates they can get without really trying very hard, knowing full well there are 3,292 others elsewhere.
It's no longer the place where history is made.