A pair of low-key primaries concluding Tuesday will set the stage for what is expected to be a bruising gubernatorial battle in the fall.
Republican Gov. Victor L. Atiyeh is dominating the paid media with a blitz of television ads highlighting the accomplishments of his first four years in Salem. Atiyeh faces no serious threat Tuesday, although five opponents have filed against him.
The only challenger who is at all well-known is Walter L. Huss of Portland, who was chairman of the state GOP during a brief period of right-wing control early in Atiyeh's term.
The ads are interpreted by most political observers as a head-start for Atiyeh on what is expected to be a serious challenge in the general election.
Eight Democrats have filed for their party's nomination, with state Sen. Ted Kulongoski of Junction City favored over Multnomah County (Portland) Executive Donald E. Clark and Lane County (Eugene) Commissioner Gerald H. Rust.
The campaigns of the three Democratic front-runners have been lightly financed, with trade unions and other traditional sources of funds hard-hit by the economic slump. Most observers believe the lack of visibility plays into the hands of Kulongoski, who established his statewide name identification in losing to Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) by 52 to 44 percent in 1980.
Kulongoski was outspent by 8 to 1 in that Senate race and hesitated about plunging into another under-financed contest. But the unions that have provided much of his support urged him to take advantage of the deteriorating economic situation, which has pushed unemployment to 11.4 percent.
He has responded in kind, telling a recent Portland Democratic forum that "the issue is jobs for the people of Oregon" and saying the state's governor "should speak out against an economic policy that tells Oregonians they have to suffer unemployment to relieve the nation's inflation."
But Clark has criticized Kulongoski for failing to detail "specific policies" for the state's economic development. "Kulongoski looks to Washington for solutions," he told the same forum, "but I believe Oregon can do much for itself."
Clark has issued a number of detailed economic policy papers and has used them to pick up some key newspaper endorsements, including that of the largest paper, the Portland Oregonian.
But private polls reportedly show Kulongoski leading Clark here in the Portland metropolitan area, where Clark has made both friends and enemies in 20 years of public office, starting with his election as sheriff in 1962.
Rust has positioned himself as the most liberal of the three liberal Democratic front-runners, backing a proposal for a state bank to finance economic development projects. But he shares his Eugene political base with Kulongoski and is still seeking statewide name identification.
Oregon gained a fifth congressional seat in reapportionment. Freshman Rep. Denny Smith (R), who represents the vast eastern district now, has shifted into the new Salem-Corvallis 5th Congressional District, and both parties have lively primaries for the 2nd district nomination.