Boston — Massachusetts, the only state that went for Democratic liberal George McGovern in the 1972 presidential election, may be back on that political course.
In the process, efforts by conservative interests, including the so-called New Right, have been dealt telling setbacks in the state's two most fiercely contested congressional primary contests.
The victories of Democratic liberals Barney Frank and US. Rep. James M. Shannon came Sept. 16 in the face of late campaign attempts by the opposition to make abortion funding the dominant issue and the intervention of a strong antiabortion letter by Humberto Cardinal Medeiros of Boston.
While it may never be known to what extent the message to Roman Catholic parishioners may have swayed votes in the two congressional primaries, it certainly fell short of gaining nominations for the Democratic candidates who shared the Cardinal's antiabortion stance.
Some observers suggest that instead of hurting Mr. Frank and Representative Shannon, the Cardinal's intervention might have boosted their candidacies by polarizing their support and rallying to their cause those who otherwise might have not voted.
This could be particularly the case in the Fourth District, where there had been considerable bitterness in liberal ranks because of the endorsement of Frank by US Rep. Robert F. Drinan, the Catholic priest who has held the seat for the past decade and is retiring in response to a Vatican edict against members of the clergy holding public office.
The effectiveness of the Medeiros letter was blunted at least somewhat by the continued Drinan campaign help to Frank, a liberal-bent state representative from Boston's Back Bay and Beacon Hill areas who moved into the Fourth District last May shortly after launching his congressional candidacy.
Several other members of the Catholic clergy, similarly rankled over the Cardinal's attempted intervention in the campaign, rallied to the Frank fold, emphasizing that this was not "a single issue campaign."
The previously untested political coattails of US Sen. Edward M. Kennedy also could have helped Frank and Shannon, especially in the crucial final four days of the campaign. The senator, who never before took sides in a party primary contest, not only threw his full backing behind the two Democratic liberals but also campaigned with them, despite the Cardinal's urging Catholics not to vote for candidates who support abortion funding.
Shannon, a first-term congressman, won renomination handily with 54 percent of the vote in the Fifth District, 70 percent of whose residents are Catholics.
Contributing perhaps mightily to the Frank nomination in the Fourth District, which also has a substantial Catholic population, was his strength in the towns of Brookline and Newton, two Drinan strongholds, where there is a substantial Jewish electorate.
Nomination prospects of Democratic conservative Arthur Clark, the six-term mayor of the town of Waltham, were diminished considerably by a light voter turnout in the more heavily Catholic western reaches of the district.
If nothing else, the nomination of Frank and Shannon raises questions as to the extent of influence of the Roman Catholic hierarchy on the often independent Massachusetts electorate.
Although the Medeiros letter made no mention of specific candidates, its intent to help elect antiabortion congressmen and defeat those whose position was at variance from that of the church was clear.
Both Shannon and Frank face Republican ballot foes in the November election. But since their districts are predominantly Democratic, having made it through the tough primary fights makes the road ahead look comparatively easy.
Liberal or moderate candidates faired well in most other primary contests.
In the Sixth District, for example, political newcomer Thomas H. Trimarco, a moderate, downed conservative William Bronson, the GOP's congressional nominee there in the past two elections. He will oppose US Rep. Nicholas Mavroules, the freshman Democratic incumbent, in the Nov. 4 election.