From the outside, the Oregon governorship may look like a referendum on Reaganomics. For 2 million Oregonians, it is something much more intriguing.
It is a test of the strongly contrasting personalities and leadership styles of Gov. Victor Atiyeh (R) and his challenger, state Sen. Ted Kulongoski (D).
Perhaps more importantly, it will measure not the commitment to supply-side economics but the degree of risk Oregonians will take in hopes of breaking out of the plight brought on by the collapse of the lumber and forest products industry.
Atiyeh, 59, is a familiar, comfortable figure. A small-businessman, he served 20 years in the legislature, building a reputation as a moderate conservative. He ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1974, and came back four years later to oust an equally colorless Democratic incumbent.
Monday night here, before 200 people who came to the Labor Temple for the last statewide televised debate between the two candidates, Atiyeh said of himself: "No glamor or slick talk, but plain, honest and quiet."
Atiyeh is a kind of Oregon Gerald R. Ford, a nice guy who has struggled hard through three special legislative sessions in the past 16 months and with the fiscal problems created by the shutdown of lumber mills when high interest rates choked off housing and construction.
Without double-digit unemployment, Democrats concede, Atiyeh would be a cinch for reelection. But in a time of hardship, with 155,000 out of work, the question is whether being nice will be enough.
Kulongoski clearly is betting it will not.
"His real problem," Kulongoski said in an interview aboard an airplane Sunday night, "is that while people don't think he can be blamed for the recession they do think he's done very little to lead the state out of it."
In his TV ads, Kulongoski comes on like a latter-day John F. Kennedy, borrowing a 1960 line with a promise to "get Oregon moving again."
"The governor is a nice man," Kulongoski tells the viewers, "but we can't afford his wait-and-see attitude. We need a governor who can take charge."
Kulongoski, a short, square-shouldered man of 41, with a broad smile and a Hubert H. Humphrey-like love of the sound of his own voice, has been impatient to "take charge."
At least partly a product of a Missouri orphanage and the Marine Corps, he picked up his Missouri law degree in 1970 and moved west. Just four years later he won the first of three elections to the Oregon legislature. His populist views gained him both retainers and support from the unions. In 1980 he waged an underdog, under-financed campaign against Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.), and last May he trounced seven other Democrats to win the nomination to run against Atiyeh.
For much of September, Kulongoski was the issue. Polls showed that one-third of the voters knew little about him, according to his imported campaign manager, Steve Murphy, so Kulongoski went on television early, talking directly to the camera about his five-point economic recovery plan.
The Atiyeh campaign found the same vagueness about the challenger in its polls, according to manager Denny Miles, and rushed to fill the information void with a series of negative radio spots, portraying Kulongoski as the advocate of "dangerous" and "risky" schemes that would scare away new industry rather than create jobs.
The chief example was a "plants closing" bill Kulongoski sponsored in the 1981 legislature. In its original form the bill would have required businesses to notify the state six months in advance of any shutdown, to allow time for bringing in new jobs or retraining workers.
Atiyeh charged that the mere threat of such legislation had killed some of his efforts to lure new industry. Kulongoski said he had dropped the mandatory-notice provision as "unworkable," but embroiled himself in further controversy on the question of whether he had or had not testified for such legislation.
While some observers said Atiyeh was blurring his "nice guy" reputation by the negative ads and by his spirited personal assaults on Kulongoski's integrity in their September debates, the polls suggested that, at the least, the governor had slowed his challenger's momentum.
A mail-ballot survey published last Friday by The Oregonian in Portland gave Atiyeh a shaky 42-to-41 percent lead, with 4 percent for a Libertarian candidate and 13 percent undecided. Most private polls also show the race a tossup.
Atiyeh was on the attack again in Monday's debate, but this time Kulongoski fired heavy salvos of his own. He pointed to criticism of state economic development efforts by a task force Atiyeh appointed, and repeatedly asked, "What are you going to do, governor," about communities where mill closings "have destroyed hope?"
In an echo of President Reagan's message of optimism, Atiyeh insisted that industrial bonds and other incentives already in place will lure new jobs to Oregon.
Polling by both sides here shows the national pattern of ambivalence on Reaganomics, which Atiyeh, with a few exceptions, has endorsed. Most voters say they think the president's program is unfair, but say it eventually will improve the economy. They rate the Democrats more sensitive to unemployment, but say that past Democratic Congresses bear more of the blame for the current recession than does Reagan.
Interviews at the Medford Shopping Center the day after the debate found more voters wrestling with the personal dimensions of the election than with the national issues.
Atiyeh had a slight lead among those with definite opinions, but among those who said they were undecided about two-thirds were Democrats critical of the Republican incumbents in the White House and the state capital. They were hesitating, they said, because of a lack of information on Kulongoski or negative things they had heard about him.
"If we could match his money and advertising," said Kulongoski fund-raiser Mitzi Scott, "I'm sure we could beat Vic." But, despite some help from the Democratic National Committee and the unions, Kulongoski expects to be outspent by about $900,000 to $450,000.
Meanwhile, the protracted economic agony of the lumber industry is stirring a populist revolt among the voters that threatens to make life more difficult for anyone in the governorship. Until recently, Oregon's quality of life was its greatest attraction and the key to its self-image.
But the Nov. 2 ballot offers voters angry with government and the emergency taxes it has passed to balance the budget an opportunity to repeal the statewide land-use policy that has been the foundation of Oregon's environmental quality and to roll back property taxes to the 1 1/2 percent level.
Both Atiyeh and Kulongoski say the initiatives would cripple education financing and impair environmental quality in the state.
The candidates warn that passage of these measures would threaten their efforts to bring in new high-tech firms, whose managers and employes judge a location by its educational, natural and social amenities. But the tax-limitation measure is far ahead in the polls, and the land-use measure is also given a chance to pass