Boston — President Carter has paid the home state of US Sen. Edward Kennedy what may be little more than a campaign courtesy call. The three-hour presidential visit Oct. 15, part of a three-state campaign swing that included appearances in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, came at a time when public opinion polls indicate Mr. Carter running neck and neck with Ronald Reagan in Massachusetts.
Yet, at least in this state, it appears Carter plans to ride the coattails of the man he bested for the Democratic nomination during the primaries. The President will likely concentrate on larger states where he is more vulnerable.
A voter preference sampling published last weekend in the Boston Globe showed the President with a one-point lead -- 33 percent to 32 percent -- over his GOP challenger. Independent candidate John Anderson was at 21 percent. An earlier poll, published in the Boston Herald-American two weeks ago, had Carter trailing Reagan by 27 to 26 percent with Mr. Anderson close behind at 24 percent.
That the state has never been a Carter stronghold is underscored by his fourth-place finish behind US Sen. Henry Jackson of Washington, George Wallace of Alabama, and US Rep. Morris K. Udall of Arizona, in the 1976 Democratic preference primary here.
Carter went on to down Republican President Gerald R. Ford, 56.4 percent to 40.6 percent of the vote. It might be noted, however, that Democrats outnumbered GOP enrollees nearly 3 to 1 in this state.
Whatever doubts there might have been concerning the extent of Kennedy commitment for the President were answered by the senator when he urged "all of those who helped me in the primary campaign in Massachusetts" to "go to work and help elect President Carter." Besides the senator and other Democratic dignitaries, Mrs. Kennedy was seated on the platform with the President.
Flanked by Massachusetts Democratic heavyweights, including the senator, the nation's re-election-bent chief executive breezed through Boston, addressing a group of senior citizens and a party fund-raiser.
Kennedy's active participation with Carter in the Bay State campaign activities provided what could be an important boost to the latter in keeping disappointed backers of the senator from straying in other directions.
Carter prospects for carrying Massachusetts, a state whose electoral votes have gone only to Democrats since 1956, appear to hinge substantially on the help provided by Kennedy, who outpolled him by more than 2 to 1 in last March's presidential preference primary.
While it is uncertain to what extent the brief Carter stay in Boston may have strengthened his support in overwhelmingly Democratic Massachusetts, it served notice that he is neither writing the state off nor taking its 14 electoral votes for granted.
A major and continuing concern to Carter activists has been the Anderson strength among liberals -- support that might otherwise go to their candidate.
The presidential visit, expected to be his only campaign appearance in the state, gave Democratic leaders of all stripes -- both conservatives, like Gov. Edward J. King, and liberals, like US Sen. Paul E. Tsongas -- to demonstrate political unity behind the President.
Besides joining Carter in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Kennedy will hit the campaign trail in his behalf later this week elsewhere in the Northeast, including New York.
At the rally attended by some 500 senior citizens, Carter decried positions taken by his Republican opponent on a broad range of issues of particular concern to the poor and the elderly, including unemployment compensation, medicare, minimum wage, social security, and national health insurance.
Later at a $500-a-plate luncheon at a waterfront restaurant, attended by some 400 contributors and political activists, the President defended his support of the Equal Rights Amendment. Commenting on an Oct. 14 statement by Mr. Reagan that, if elected, he would appoint a women to the US Supreme Court, the President said, "ERA means more than one job for one person."