THE Bush and Clinton political machines rolled through the Pacific Northwest this week, picking up delegates and momentum toward sure nomination - but with a bit of sand in their gears named Ross Perot.
Both Democratic and Republican front-runners easily won their party primary elections in Oregon. George Bush did the same in Washington State, where Democrats held a "beauty contest" vote that should help Bill Clinton in a schedule of caucuses that began in early March and will end at the state convention June 6.
Jerry Brown had urged Oregonians to "shake 'em up" by voting contrary to national patterns, which the state has a history of doing. But any discontent with incumbents and the political system in general seems to have been directed in Mr. Perot's favor.
Although neither party has official write-in categories on its closed primary ballots in Oregon, 11 percent of those voting penciled in the name of Perot anyway, according to exit polls conducted by CNN. The CNN survey of Oregon voters also showed Perot running strong in a mock presidential election: 45 percent to 41 percent for Clinton among Democrats and 40 percent to 49 percent for Bush among GOP registrants.
To the north, there apparently are at least hotbeds of support for Perot in Washington State as well. In San Juan County, he beat Bush 419 to 265; and he got 244 Democratic votes, well ahead of Brown with 126 and Clinton with just 122.
On election-day Tuesday Governor Clinton acknowledged that those voting for the Texan "don't believe anybody associated with a political party can make a difference." One such voter was Janet Helzer of Beaverton, who said, "I didn't have anyone else I could vote for." Perot-backers in Oregon now claim they have enough signatures to put their man on the Nov. 3 ballot.
But, as many observers have been saying, most voters still don't know much about self-styled outsider Perot - especially his close ties to government officials at key points in his history of success in business. "They haven't heard anything negative about him," said Clinton as he hop-scotched from Albuquerque to Austin to Miami on a fund-raising blitz this week.
The closest race in the Northwest this week (perhaps in the country) also involved one perceived as an outsider running against a political system alleged to be corrupt as well as ineffective. This was for the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Sen. Bob Packwood in Oregon. It pitted veteran Congressman Les AuCoin against businessman Harry Lonsdale, like Perot a wealthy entrepreneur who has never held public office.
Two years ago, Mr. Lonsdale ran as the Democratic nominee against Mark Hatfield, Oregon's other non-mainstream Republican senator. He was ahead in the polls and very nearly upset the four-term veteran until Hatfield turned the race around in the last week or so.
This time, Lonsdale had the advantage of running against a longtime member of Congress who happened to write 83 bad checks at the infamous House bank totaling $30,000, a transgression for which Mr. AuCoin has apologized.
At press time yesterday, with 97 percent of all precincts reporting, the two were separated by just 300 votes out of more than a 280,000 (or only about one-tenth of one percentage). Write-in votes will not be counted until tomorrow; a recount is likely.
Whoever wins will face in Packwood one of the most well-armed opponents. Over the past year, the incumbent has cast his fund-raising net far and wide and he now has one of the largest campaign war chests of all US senators running for reelection. He also ended his ban on taking money from political action committees (PACs).
In recent days, Packwood was running attack ads against AuCoin, which drew complaints that he was interfering with the Democratic Party's nominating process.