The far west includes one of the nation's most staunchly Republican states, Alaska, and one of the most steadfastly Democratic in Hawaii. But the Pacific Coast states of California, Oregon and Washington forgo party regularity. Their voters are more likely to vote for personalities than according to party ties.
Oregon, where the economic recovery has been slow to arrive, is the weak link in Ronald Reagan's Western bloc. California Democrats are counting on a strong Mondale showing to help them defeat some conservative-backed ballot initiatives. But throughout the region, even in Hawaii, the Republican President has a solid lead in the polls.
Any shifting around of the party balance in House delegations from the Far West will be slight. The most vulnerable seats are those of two California Democrats challenged by populist-type conservatives. ALASKA
Politicians in Alaska don't like to play up their party affiliation, say political observers. But Alaskan political preferences for November are looking very Republican.
Polls show Reagan with a 2-1 lead over Mondale, and conservative US Sen. Ted Stevens with a 3-1 lead over his Democratic opponent, John Havelock.
Congressman Don Young (R) faces the first serious challenge he's had in six terms from Pegge Begich. She is the wife of Nick Begich, who was holding the state's only congressional seat when he was killed in a 1972 plane crash along with Louisiana Congressman Hale Boggs. The crash occured before the 1972 election but Mr. Begich, whose fate was unknown at the time of the election, was reelected over Mr. Young, who later won the seat.
Democratic party officials say privately that it's an uphill battle, but Mrs. Begich has managed to snare important endorsements from the National Education Association, the AFL-CIO, and the United Fishermen of Alaska - all former Young supporters. Party officials say that Mrs. Begich, who has undertaken expensive but effective campaigning in the far-flung bush, could come close enough this time to warrant a second attempt to unseat Young in 1986.
Alaska is a stronghold of the Libertarian Party, and was the first place where Libertarians won a state office, when Dick Randolph was elected to the legislature. He later ran unsuccessfully for governor. In 1980, Libertarian presidential candidate Ed Clark tallied 12 percent of the Alaskan vote, and in some areas even out-polled Jimmy Carter. But David Bergland, Libertarian candidate for president this year, is not expected to pull as heavily in Alaska because his campaign is not well-financed and Ronald Reagan's popularity has syphoned off some of the Libertarian support. CALIFORNIA
There is one lone Democrat among the five congressmen from conservative Orange County, and he is caught in the toughest campaign of his career. Five-term US Rep. Jerry M. Patterson, a senior member of the House banking committee, is being challenged by Robert K. Dornan, a well-known and well-financed former congressman from the Santa Monica area.
The nation's most populous state has the most congressmen - 45. Of the 29 Democratic and 16 Republican incumbents, only two - both Democrats - face serious challenges this year. One is Mr. Patterson in Orange County. The other is George E. Brown Jr. of the ''Inland Empire'' - the desert cities of San Bernardino and Riverside to the east of Los Angeles.
The Orange County candidates are expected to spend more than $1.6 million. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district, but it is a conservative, blue-collar area that went heavily for Ronald Reagan in 1980. Mr. Patterson is well-liked in the county, but vulnerable to a strong Republican candidacy. Mr. Dornan, who lived in Los Angeles County, saw his opening and moved south to Orange County early this year. Dornan lost his former seat in the House in 1982 when the Democratic state legislators who drew congressional districts carved his old district right out from under him.
Twice Dornan has earned the distinction of running and winning in the most expensive House races in the country. This year he expects to raise about $1 million, much of it from national conservative groups and mailing lists. Patterson is aiming to raise $600,000, more than twice as much as he has ever raised before.
Patterson is running as an independent-minded, moderate, pragmatist who has supported Reagan programs on occasion. To back this self-portrait up, he has the support of much of the financial industry, especially savings-and-loan associations, and letters of appreciation from the White House.
Dornan points out that Patterson was rated the 19th most liberal member of the House by the National Journal in 1983. As for the White House letters to Patterson, the Dornan campaign had them shut off last May.
For his part, Dornan is running hard as a ''mainstream Reagan Republican.'' Patterson terms him a ''far-right extremist.'' Dornan was one of the most conservative members of the House in his earlier terms. Dubbed ''B-1 Bob'' when in Congress, he is an unstinting supporter of increased military strength and was an unabashed advocate of the Vietnam war.
Rep. George E. Brown Jr. is fighting a much less expensive, but no less difficult, battle for re-election in another district of conservative, blue-collar Democrats who voted for Reagan in 1980 - the 36th Congressional District in the San Bernadino-Riverside area.
This is a three-in-a-row matchup between the liberal Mr. Brown, a 20-year House veteran, and a conservative young fundamentalist, John Paul Stark, who has been steadily gaining credibility with each election.
Brown is a senior member of the House Agriculture Committee and the Science and Technology Committee. He calls himself a ''peacenik,'' and he has a national list of campaign contributors who support him on arms control issues.
Mr. Stark is an insurance agent who was once personnel director for Campus Crusade for Christ International, based in Riverside, Calif.
Both candidates are getting financial help from outside the district. Prominent Democrats like Rep. Morris K. Udall of Arizona and former US senator and presidential candidate George McGovern have sent fundraising appeals out to environmentalists and liberal mailing lists on Brown's behalf.
Stark has the support of conservative political action committees and business groups like the United States Chamber of Commerce.
In the 1980 election, Stark finished 10 percentage points behind Brown; in 1982 he cut that to 8 percent, although the district had been altered in Brown's favor with some added Democratic areas.
This year will be the first time Stark is not heavily outspent by Brown. Each campaign is expecting to raise a little over $300,000.
Religion is figuring prominently in this race, especially since a McGovern fundraising letter for Brown came to light last month. The letter stated that Stark had been devoted to ''merging church and state'' to build a ''Christian Republic.'' Stark calls the letter a ''smear.''
This district is populated with fundamentalist Protestant churches whose congregations tend to be conservative on issues like abortion, gun control, school prayer, and military strength. This is Stark's base of support, while he reaches out for more moderate voters with economic issues.
Brown, a Methodist with a Quaker upbringing, his taking his campaign straight to church, trying to win over congregations of all political stripes to his liberal vision of the social gospel.
The race California politicians are most concerned with this year - the race that could most change the political complexion of the state - involves no candidates at all. Among the 16 ballot propositions Californians will face in the voting booth, one concerns the treasured task of redrawing legislative districts every 10 years to conform to the last census.
Proposition 39, backed by Gov. George Deukmejian, would create a panel of retired judges to map out legislative districts.
Currently, the legislature draws its own districts and US House districts. Thus, the majority party in the legislature can draw the districts, as much as possible, to make its own members safe from challenges. The Democrats, who control both houses of the California legislature, redrew a number of districts in 1982 to protect Democratic legislators and congressmen and undercut Republican incumbents. This happened to GOP Reps. John Rousselot and Robert Dornan.
To politicians, this is a major political controversy. Voters find it less urgent. According to a September California Poll by the Field Institute, 14 percent of California voters favored Prop 39, 6 percent opposed, 7 percent were undecided, and the rest had never heard of it. One of the most intriguing California races this November is for the mayor of San Diego. Mayor Roger Hedgecock, the up-and-coming, moderate young Republican who was elected after Pete Wilson went to the US Senate, sails into the final weeks of the campaign legally swamped, but politically unscathed.
In September, Mayor Hedgecock was indicted by a San Diego grand jury on 15 counts of felony conspiracy and perjury relating to his campaign finances. He had faced a long spring and summer of scrutiny over ties between his campaign and J. David & Company, an investment firm whose collapse amid charges of fraud cost clients some $112 million.
Local voters were apparently unfazed. The San Diego Poll in late September showed Mayor Hedgecock with the support of 46 percent of registered voters, and his opponent, La Jolla businessman Dick Carlson with 37 percent. Those were almost the same percentages each received in a June recall election.
This month, a California watchdog commission sued Hedgecock for almost $1 million for 450 campaign finance violations, the largest case in the commission's history. But the voters make up their own minds on these matters, and so far many obviously are sticking with the mayor.
The nation's youngest state has never sent a Republican to the US House of Representatives, and there are no signs that the pattern is about to change. Hawaii's two congressmen are deemed secure. Neither senator is up for re-election, nor is the governor. All are Democrats.
That makes it all the more surprising that President Reagan had opened up a 49 to 37 percent lead over Mondale in a September poll of Oahu voters by the Honolulu Advertizer. Oahu accounts for 80 percent of Hawaii's voters, and if the other islands were figured the Reagan lead might be narrowed somewhat. But the figure is noteworthy, considering no Republican apart from Richard Nixon in 1972 has won Hawaii's four electoral votes for president.
The scent of political scandal in the US Senate race so far has failed to impress Oregon voters, known for spirited independence and a partiality to personality rather than political party ties.
Sen. Mark O. Hatfield's reputation remains rock solid despite a Justice Department probe of a possible illegal connection between his support for a proposed trans-African pipeline and his wife's business dealings with the promoter of the pipeline. (The Senate Ethics Committee has cleared him, but a Justice Department probe continues.) Though his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Margie Hendriksen, has steadily moved up in the polls, so, too, has the popular moderate Republican who has started a radio and television ad campaign that wasn't a part of his plans before the pipeline issue.
Pollster Roy Bardsley showed Senator Hatfield commanding 61 percent of vote in late September and Ms. Hendriksen trailing with 25 percent. This race won't be the windfall seat Democrats, eager to regain a Senate majority, hoped for.
But Democrats may find the only crack in Ronald Reagan's Western voting bloc in Oregon. The Oregonian proclivity for ticket-splitting, its progressive stand on civil rights and the peace movement, and the fact that the state's lumber-based and interest rate-sensitive economy has not emerged from the recession may have left the electorate disenchanted with Reagan.
So the seven electoral votes here are a prime target for Walter Mondale, who had closed to within 2 points of Mr. Reagan as early as August. Should he win here, Mondale would join Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson as the only Democratic presidential candidates in recent memory to carry the state.
All incumbents in the Oregonian congressional delegation of three Democrats and two Republicans are expected by political observers to keep their seats. But two races will be close. Republican Rep. Denny Smith, a politican in the same far right political mold as his second cousin, US Sen. Steve Symms of Idaho, faces Democrat Ruth McFarland, who came within 3 percentage points of beating him in the 1982 election.
Five-term congressman Les AuCoin (D) is in a close rematch with his 1982 opponent Bill Moshofsky, a former lobbiest for the Georgia-Pacific Company, the wood-products giant.
Republican Gov. John Spellman faces a serious reelection challenge, and polls indicate he has fallen slightly behind his Democratic opponent, Booth Gardner, Pierce County executive and Weyerhaeuser (lumber company) heir.
Mr. Spellman, who ran without Republican opposition in the September primary and was outpolled 2-1 by Mr. Gardner. The ''blanket'' primary, in which candidates of all parties appear on the same ballot, is viewed as a dry run for the November election. Even in solidly Republican districts, Gardner got 60 percent of the vote. That's considered significant, says pollster Stuart Elway, because it shows there was crossover voting. Mr. Elway says, ''Our data indicates they won't be crossing back (to Governor Spellman).'' Elway, whose polls were done for the Seattle Times, says that although Ronald Reagan is running about 14 points ahead of Mondale, the coattail effect doesn't appear to be working in the governor's favor. ''Gardner got the votes a Republican would normally count on to win. Forty percent of Gardner's supporters are also Reagan supporters,'' he says.
Elway sees in this the voters' desire for ''a change in politics as usual.'' Democrat Gardner is ''running against Olympia'' (the state capital) just as Reagan ''runs against Washington, D.C. - both as outsiders.''
Others say that Spellman's main fault has been that he is ''uninspiring.''
The Democrats' five to three edge in the congresional delegation is expected to hold steady. However, the race for the seat vacated by Republican Joel Pritchard, who is retiring, is close. Republican John Miller is the favorite because the First District, encompassing the affluent Seattle north shore, is largely Republican. But Democrat Brock Evans is expected to put up a good fight for the seat.
This race is remarkable because of the unusual name recognition the two bring to their race. Mr. Miller's name is familiar because he has been a political commentator for a Seattle television station. Mr. Evans's high name recognition, say pollsters, stems from confusion of his name with that of US Sen. Dan Evans and that of Brock Adams, US Secretary of Transportation under President Carter. A longtime national lobbyist for the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society, Evans is running on his strong environmental record. Interestingly, the two candidates co-founded the Washington Environmental Council.
Two state ballot initiatives are also providing close, impassioned contests in Washington. Proposition No. 471 would end all state funded abortions. Polling by the Seattle Times newspaper shows the initiative may lose by a very slim margin. No. 456 would overturn a federal court ruling that rectified an old treaty giving 50 percent of the state's salmon fishing take to Indian tribes. This measure is expected to pass overwhelmingly, but it is likely to be viewed only as an advisory measure. The constitutionality of a state referendum overturning a federal court decision is considered quite doubtful.
Next: five US Senate races