The great burning issues of economics, defense and government regulation may have a lot to do with the makeup of the next House of Representatives, but don't be too sure of it.
In a variety of House campaigns this fall, the outcome hinges on isolated local issues, an incumbent's contradictory record or weird little flaps that don't have much to do with the way the world really turns.
Maybe it was ever thus, but 1980 has produced a bumper crop of the curious, the confusing and the unorthodox.
For confusion, look at San Diego. Bob Wilson wants to replace Bob Wilson, but a committee of Bob Wilsons has been organized to oppose Bob Wilson.
Or look at Wisconsin's 2nd District. Billboards there proclaim "Jim Wright, Congress 1980." He is a Republican, not to be confused with House Majority Leader Jim Wright of Texas, who, in a tight race, might be wishing he were in a cooler Wisconsin.
Jim Wright of Fort Worth has been targeted for defeat by the GOP congressional campaign committee and by right-wing organizations, led by the National Conservative Political Action Committee and Christian Voice. They have drenched the district with anti-Wright brochures and advertising.
He is opposed by Jim Bradshaw, a former mayor pro tem of Fort Worth, in one of the country's more vituperative campaigns. Although Wright is favored to win, he is being hammered mercilessly by the New Right, which is painting him as a baby-killer (for abortion votes), as a coddler of homosexuals (for a science vote) and for being a closet liberal who has gone soft on defense.
Wright's image hasn't been helped by allegations that he profited on petroleum holdings and helped wealthy oil constituents with problems overseas, and that the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, published by his campaign chairman, is boosting his reelection.
Wright, of course, denies all, and, seeking a 14th term from a heavily Democratic district, has responded with sharp attacks on Bradshaw's record as a city councilman, on the outsiders' efforts to influence voting and on "more lies, half-truths and distortions from the Republicans."
An equally ugly fight is going on just to the east in Houston, where a genuine liberal, Democratic Rep. Bob Eckhardt, is being held responsible for school busing, as well as all the other evils perceived by the New Right.
National conservative and business political action committees have poured money into the campaign of Jack Fields, an opponent more difficult to attack than Bradshaw, since he has no public record. The race is thought to be neck and neck, although GOP polls have Fields ahead.
A half-continent away in West Virginia, the things Mrs. John Hutchinson said are coming back to haunt her husband in his race for reelection. The former Charleston mayor is matched against Mick Staton, a Republican, whom he edged in a special election in June.
Staton has gibed at Hutchison over his wife's insistence that no young women be hired for his Washington office. And Staton advertises with postcards from Hilton Head, S.C., commermorating a vacation Hutchinson took just after his election, missing a vote on coal miners' benefits.
It's not only the incumbents whose words are being used against them. In Omaha, in the fight for a seat vacated by Democrat Rep. John J. Cavanaugh, GOP candidate Hal Daub visited a high school and talked about returning to have "a kegger" with the youngsters.
The remark was televised and Daub's explanation that he meant a kegger of root beer, rather than the other stuff, has been hard for conservative Democratic Omaha to swallow.
In other places, such as the 10th District of southeast Missouri, it's what they write that causes the problems. Rep. Bill D. Burlison, a Democrat, is being chastised for a scheme that involved writing checks to constitutents to compensate their "expenses and time" in helping him get reelected.
Burlison's oponent, Bill Emerson, also is reported to be helped by charges that the congressman had an affair with a woman postal worker who was suspected of involvement in stamp fraud. She was transferred to another job after Burlison went to bat for her, although Burlison denied charges of wrongdoing leveled by the woman's estranged husband.
An issue in a close race in Iowa's northwestern corner is the private business of Rep. Berkley Bedell, facing a stiff challenge from Clarence S. Carney, a Republican state senator.
A federal grand jury has been looking into allegations, denied by Bedell, that his fishing tackle company skirted customs duties by setting phony low prices on imported material. Bedell's attorneys stalled the investigation and a grand jury report is not expected until after the election.
Money is causing some problems for Rep. Donald Albosta (D-Mich.), a farmer who has been accused of financing his 1978 campaign with money from a Small Business Administration farm disaster loan. SBA is investigating, but Albosta, denying any chicanery, has refused to debate any of his three opponents unless they place a moratorium on the SBA loan issue.
Often it's the Republicans who get rapped for their ties to Big Oil, but in suburban Denver, Democratic Rep. Timothy E. Wirth is under fire for receiving about $60,000 in oil-industry contributions this year and in 1978.
GOP candidate John McElderry, a state representative, also is taking oil money, but he's having a field day criticizing Wirth, who has worked in Washington to limit special-interest contributions to campaigns.
Another twist: Rep. James J. Howard (D-N.J.), chairman of the House surface transportation subcommittee, is being twitted by GOP candidate Marie S. Muhler for . . . poor surface transportation in the Asbury Park area.
In Maryland, veteran Rep. Clarence D. Long thought he was helping his north Baltimore district by opposing the dumping of harbor dredge spoil on two recreational islands. Now he's being blasted for that by GOP candidate Helen D. Bentley, a tough-talking former reporter and Federal Maritime Commission chairman, who dubs herself "The Fighting Lady." She tells blue-collar voters who tend to support Long, that without a deeper Baltimore harbor, their jobs will vanish.
And then there is the name game.
In Indiana, a woman told Rep. John T. Myers, a Republican, that she was disappointed in his behavior, but would vote for him anyway. She had him confused with Rep. Michael Myers, the Philadelphia Democrat convicted in the Abscam bribery case.
Indianapolis voters are being asked to send a third Crane brother, this one David G., to Congress to replace Rep. David Evans, a Democrat. His conservative Republican brothers, Philip and Daniel, represent Illinois districts.
The East Side of Manhattan is undergoing a greening of a special kind -- incumbent Republican Rep. S. William Green up against Mark Green, a former Ralph Nader lieutenant. Green aides say it's close.
In Kansas, they'll have a chance to vote again for a Keys.The first was Martha, a Democrat elected in 1974 and defeated in 1978 by Rep. Jim Jeffries. Now her divorced husband, Samuel, a college professor, is trying to defeat Jeffries in a close race. Martha Keys went on to marry Rep. Andy Jacobs Jr. (D-Ind.) and is helping him in his reelection bid.
The all-time stopper may be in San Diego. Republican Rep. Bob Wilson is retiring. Democrat Bob Wilson, a state senator, is running against Bill Lowery, deputy mayor, to replace him.
With that kind of a name problem, Lowery came up with a grand solution. His people combed the telephone books, found every Republican Bob Wilson they could and formed a Bob Wilson Committee for Bill Lowery.