Hart ahead in Oregon, close in Idaho
The Oregon primary Tuesday is likely to make Gary Hart's Western strategy look good. His expected solid victory there stands in contrast to the Idaho race the following week, where the big guns of state politics have lined up behind Walter Mondale.
With a weekend sweep through Oregon planned, the Colorado senator is expected to seal up a win in that stronghold of Western independence, party officials and pollsters say. Even Mr. Mondale's Oregon campaign coordinator admits that ''it would be the biggest turnaround in Oregon history if he (Mondale) won.'' Mr. Mondale has no plans to visit either state. Mr. Hart may take a side visit from Oregon to Idaho, where his supporters hope he'll make political hay by visiting his sister, who lives near Boise.
''Usually Idaho is written off, but it's going to be tough on the convention floor, where even Idaho's 22 delegates are going to count,'' Steve Shaw, Hart's Idaho coordinator, figures. (Only 18 are chosen in the election.)
The importance of delegates to Hart is even more evident in Oregon, with 43. (Seven more are uncommitted.) Hart will spend four days there. Pollster Tim Hibbitts calls the tactic ''overkill,'' because polls there, taken in March, showed Mr. Hart leading 2 to 1 over Mr. Mondale. And although that lead has eroded, he says Hart is expected to win by at least 15 percentage points.
The importance of campaign visits here cannot be underestimated. Many here recall that Nelson A. Rockefeller, with a slogan of ''He cared enough to come,'' was able to come from 20 points behind in the 1964 Oregon Republican primary to beat Henry Cabot Lodge and Barry Goldwater.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson trails in both states, with an Oregon supporter claiming that the campaign may not win any delegates here but that there is victory in the fact that it helped to register 4,000 voters statewide.
In Oregon a Hart supporter called the state ''one big white suburb'' ripe with the ''Yuppie''(young urban professional) voters the senator is said to command. Others say Hart has broad appeal here because he appears independent, while Mondale seems tied to the party.
''Traditional party ties are not traditional here,'' explains Mark Nelson, an Oregon pollster. Strong party identification does not count for much in a state where a weak party structure cannot contain occasional cross-party endorsements. Further, the state is divided, with Republicans holding statewide offices and Democrats controlling the legislature.
Further, Mr. Nelson explains, leadership rather than issues piques the interest of Oregonians, who are still under a recession cloud. ''It's a subjective and fleeting kind of a thing'' that appeals to Oregonians today, he says, ''but it's important whether the candidate can give a sense of hope, and they're attracted to a candidate that can convince them there is hope.''
Labor in Oregon has bucked national endorsements for Mondale, points out Tom Mason, a member of the executive committee of Hart's state campaign. The 30,000 -member Oregon Education Association endorsed Hart in March. And, Mr. Mason says , Mondale is wise to avoid the longshoremen's unions at the Portland docks. Mondale backed the Chrysler bailout, which may have helped the auto workers, but his support of domestic-content rules did not help the longshoremen in Oregon, whose jobs depend on foreign auto imports unloaded here, Mason explains. In the absence of a presidential poll in Idaho, observers say candidates Hart and Mondale appear to be neck and neck. In that state, the May 22 primary is merely a nonbinding beauty contest followed by May 24 caucuses. So while some observers believe Hart will get the popular vote in the primary, Mondale forces are expected to muster the special-interest groups that would be likely to spend a couple of hours in a caucus.
State Democratic Party chairman Mel Morgan said the Hart campaign did not seem to exist until Hart's victories this week in Ohio and Indiana. He said there are enough independent-minded voters in Idaho that he wouldn't be surprised if they peeled off for Hart. But, says Mr. Morgan, Mondale has the most organized campaign there. Though unions are not particularly strong in Idaho, considered a Republican state, party officials here say labor is putting on the most visible campaign, which is for Mondale. Further, Cecil Andrus, a former governor and Carter Cabinet member, is heading the campaign for Mondale, which Idahoans say can move a lot of votes.
Pollsters and party officials in Oregon and Idaho, both states that typically vote Republican for president, conclude that either Democratic candidate will have a rough time against Reagan. But it is generally agreed that Hart would stand the likelier chance of wresting away the independent voters.