In the last dozen years, this capital city has disappeared from the national political news. Reporters came here regularly for 16 years to hear Mark Hatfield talk Republican presidential politics or denounce the Vietnam war, and his GOP successor Tom McCall preach environmentalism or puncture right-wing Republicans. But since 1974, it has been a wasteland for quotable views.
One-term Democratic governor Robert W. Straub and the man who beat him in 1978, incumbent Republican Gov. Victor Atiyeh, lacked their predecessors' spark. They were preoccupied with the lumber industry decline that has crippled Oregon's economy.
But Salem is about to get back on the map. Tuesday's primary election is expected to set up a ding-dong battle that will almost guarantee that the new Oregon governor is instantly a national political figure.
Barring upset, the November showdown will pit former secretary of state Norma Paulus, a striking, 53-year-old Republican feminist, against former Portland mayor Neal Goldschmidt, a Carter Cabinet veteran who is, at 45, perhaps the most charismatic Democrat in the West.
Paulus was the early favorite but Goldschmidt, who faces tougher opposition on Tuesday, has done so well in the early financial and political maneuvering that he has drawn even with her in the polls.
Their expected confrontation overshadows Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bob Packwood's lavishly financed but nervous effort to smash a right-wing GOP primary challenger decisively enough to discourage the prospects of his likely November opponent, populist Rep. James Weaver (D).
In the past month, Packwood has spent close to $1 million of his record Oregon campaign treasury to ensure that he will not be embarrassed by the Rev. Joe Lutz, a Portland Baptist minister backed by conservative groups eager to attack Packwood for his liberal stand on abortion.
Weaver, a six-term veteran from Eugene, is relying on his greater name familiarity to carry him to nomination over two underfinanced state legislators.
But these contests pale next to the impending "Neal-and-Norma" fight. Goldschmidt has a primary challenge from state Sen. Edward N. Fadeley of Eugene, a leader in last year's landslide referendum rejection of a sales tax initiative backed by Paulus, Goldschmidt and the rest of the state's political establishment. But aside from dubbing the favorites "Tweedlehe and Tweedleshe," Fadeley has allowed Goldschmidt to go largely unscathed. With preprimary polls in The Oregonian showing Goldschmidt 4 to 1 over Fadeley and Paulus getting 76 percent of the vote against six unknown conservative challengers, the stage is set for a showdown.
Elected twice as secretary of state, Paulus has the mixture of glamor, down-home charm, independence and integrity Oregonians cherish. Though far from a Reaganite, she was picked by the White House as one of the U.S. observers of the Philippine elections, and reaped a publicity bonanza from that appointment.
Goldschmidt, who earned both devoted fans and dedicated enemies during his six years as the activist, reform-oriented mayor of Portland, has never run statewide and has not been on the ballot anywhere in 10 years. His two-year stint as transportation secretary was followed by five years as vice president of the Nike sports shoes company, and the political rust showed at the start of his campaign.
But he moved fast to capture the "time-for-a-change" franchise in a state where the lingering timber recession has left many communities outside the Portland metropolitan area struggling with double-digit unemployment. Combatting the suspicion of his big-city background, he promised Coos Bay and other hard-hit towns the same enthusiasm that he brought earlier to the revival of Portland's downtown and neighborhoods. He shocked Republicans with his success in raising almost twice as much money as Paulus, much of it from Republican businessmen.
That was not Paulus' only setback. She drew adverse publicity for declining to join Goldschmidt and Fadeley in a debate, after issuing the original challenge. And a television spot focusing on her legs as she climbed steps was quickly pulled after complaints from some of her supporters that it was sexist and undignified. The situation was serious enough that Republican Governors Association director Michelle Davis flew in 10 days ago "to put a tourniquet on the campaign before it went down the drain," as a key Paulus adviser put it.
But no one in the Democratic camp is discounting her chances of regaining her footing. Paulus has wide appeal and she is planning a postprimary blitz to recapture any lost momentum.
Told that Goldschmidt had described her to a reporter as "a typical country club Republican . . . who sat down the hall from this guy Atiyeh for six years saying nothing and doing nothing while the state went into the tank," Paulus replied, "It makes about as much sense as my saying he's a typical Portland liberal who sat in Jimmy Carter's Cabinet for two years while the country went to hell."
Hold on to your hats. The zip is back in Oregon politics.