With the announcement, two hours after the polls closed, that Senate Finance Chairman Bob Packwood was leading his conservative primary challenger, Joe Lutz, 57 percent to 43 percent, the crowd in the ballroom of the Red Lion Inn let out a joyous whoop. One of those joyous whoopers was Jerry Ghiglieri, a 49-year-old grandmother and Lake Oswego property manager whose favorite president is still John Kennedy and who endorses Oregon's tough bottle bill because, among other things, it means fewer barefoot kids cut their. Ghiglieri was cheering becuase the candidate for whom she worked -- Joe Lutz, a 35-year-old Bapist minister who looks, except for his slightly lopside grin, like a young Gary Cooper and who sounds, except for his call for a $30 billion cut in Pentagon spending, like an unabrasive Jesse Helms -- was giving Bob Packwood a genuine scare.
That Packwood is politically vulnerable in 1986 cannot be argued. To score his unsmashing victory over a primary oppnent whose entire TV budget was less than $40,000, the three-term Senate incumbent almost certainly spent $2 million of the $7 million he has raised. But for Republicans looking to 1988, the message from Oregon is about more than the vulnerability of one candidate. The message from the Red Lion is that social movement conservatives in the GOP will -- as the price for their votes and their vitality -- demand a voice in who leads the party and where.
Everybody knows Oregon, that scenic and independent place where back-packing, river-rafting moderates drive their Volvos only where they can't jog. But when the votes are counted, Oregon is a lot more Republican than independent. Only once in the past 10 presidential elections has a Democrat carried the state, and not since 1962 have Oregonians elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate. But with six-term Democratic Rep. Jim Weaver, a cranky populist and celebrated gut fighter, Republican Packwood will have all he can handle in November. He recognized this on primary night. In every interiew, he spoke of "what Mark Hatfield and I" have done. Clinging tightly to his popular senior colleague, Packwood appeared to be invoking innocence by association.
But what about the movement conservatives, close to 5,000 of whom were Lutz volunteers? It's true that the overwhelming majority of them opoose abortion and Packwood's support of it. But it would be wrong to pigeonhole them as the Right-to-Life campaign with a different bumper sticker. These are working-class people, for whom their church provides a lot more than theology. For many, it constitutes the social and cultural institution that defines their lives.
What FDR did for the leadership of organized labor -- granting it a reserved place of honor at the captain's table of national politics -- Ronald Reagan has already does for the leadership of the Religious Right. But in Oregon, alone and without national leadership, the Lutz campaign showed that the movement's followership is for real. That's the message for Republicans for 1988.