Boston — Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the sails of his presidential campaign ship filled by a blast of home-state support, still faces the challenge of demonstrating that his candidacy has both meaning and momentum.
The Ted Kennedy who celebrated his trouncing of President Carter in the Massachusetts Democratic primary with a somber warning that his opponent's economic policies must be reversed was in sharp contrast to the candidate who had tried to laugh off three previous jolting losses to Mr. Carter (in Iowa, Maine, and NEw Hampshire).
Not even a 3-to-1 drubbing by the President in neighboring Vermont's primary, where the Democratic vote was sparse and no delegates actually at stake, could dim the luster of Mr. Kennedy's Bay State victory. The senator's campaign workers were envisioning a renewed flow of cash to the depleted Kennedy coffers.
Massachusetts was the first high-population, urban, industrial state to hold a primary this year, and Senator Kennedy didn't just win it on his name or his home-state connection. He surmounted what some saw as serious problems with voting groups that normally would have been solidly behind him: Irish Roman Catholics unhappy over his stands in favor of forced busing and government-funded abortions, and blacks upset over his support of Democrat Paul Tsongas, who unseated black Republican Sen. Edward Brooke in 1978.
Within the city's black community, however, Senator Kennedy beat President Carter 3-to-2.
Especially pleasing to the Kennedy camp was his carrying of Boston, the seat of some of his most vocal voter opposition, by 61.5 percent to Mr. Carter's 34.6 percent.
The weakest Kennedy showing appears to have been in South Boston, including neighborhoods where opposition to busing and the senator's position on abortion has been particularly vigorous.
It may have been merely coincidental, but the Massachusetts voter elements that gave Senator Kennedy his first taste of victory this presidential year were ingredients of the classic Democratic coalition a la Roosevelt and Truman: labor , blacks, ethnics, affluent liberals, and the economically deprived.
The expectation, even in the Kennedy camp, is that President Carter will regain the lead in the flurry of Southern primaries between now and the March 18 Illinois primary. But there now is great hope that the senator can pick up in that major Midwestern industrial state where he left off in Massachusetts. Inflation storm clouds and disillusionment over the President's handling of foreign policy are seen as giving new life to the Kennedy candidacy as the stretch run of states with large convention delegations begins.
But prospects for another big win in Illinois are at best uncertain. The Carter organization never expected to beat the senator in Massachusetts, and the President's 29 percent portion of the total vote was better than most had expected. His goal was to make as respectable a showing as possible and in the process pick up at least a quarter of the state's 111 delegates.
Based on unofficial returns it appears that the President will have 34 Massachusetts delegate votes at the Democratic National Convention, to 77 for Senator Kennedy.
The senator campaigned heavily in the state, especially during the final two days of the campaign. His candidacy appears to have been helped by the decision of California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. to drop out of the Massachusetts primary.
And the size of the Kennedy vote also indicates that, at least in his home state, The Chappaquiddick incident is considered closed by most Democratic voters.
Although Mr. Kennedy's 65 percent portion of the total Democratic vote was considerably smaller than the 71.4 percentage he polled four years ago in winning re-election to his Senate seat, President Carter was, even without active campaigning, obviously a lot tougher foe than he faced in the 1976 state election.
The dimension of this latest Kennedy victory in Massachusetts would appear to remove whatever doubts there might have been concerning his ability to hold onto his Senate seat in 1982, should he fail in his presidential aspirations.
Had Senator Kennedy lost the primary, or narrowly bested President Carter, one or more prominent fellow Democrats might have been encouraged to challenge him in the party's senatorial primary two years hence.
Since beating Republican George Lodge, son of former United Nations ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, in 1962, Mr. Kennedy has never faced stiff ballot opposition in either a Democratic primary or a general election.
And most Massachusetts observers expect that if Senate Kennedy fails in his current reach for the presidency he will try again in 1984.