A Democratic primary the GOP will watch

Republican President Ronald Reagan may be more than a little interested in the outcome of the coming Democratic gubernatorial primary in Massachusetts.

At issue is the political future of Gov. Edward J. King, a rocked-ribbed conservative and quite possibly the most solid devotee of supply-side economics on the political scene outside of the nation's capital.

In sharp contrast, former Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, his Sept. 14 challenger for the Democratic nomination, is an outspoken critic of Reaganomics.

For reasons more partisan than philosophical, Governor King in recent months has been less outwardly supportive of the administration. There is no hint he is any less sold on the Reagan approach.

Mr. Dukakis, a liberal-to-moderate, has been making the most of the King stance on Reaganomics and is portraying King as the President's favorite Democratic governor.

The thriving business climate and low unemployment in the Bay State, which the governor had counted on being the cornerstone of his campaign, have crumbled somewhat over the past year with joblessness statewide having climbed from 6.1 percent in July 1981 to 9.5 percent this past July. When King took office in 1978, unemployment stood at 6.3 percent.

The increasingly bitter campaign, which in effect began four years ago when King toppled then Governor Dukakis in their party's primary, has been anything but a typical Democratic contest, even for Massachusetts where intraparty politics often is quite volatile.

Although in some respects a rerun of the 1978 Democratic primary between the tough-talking, self-assured King, and studious, reform-oriented Dukakis, the current gubernatorial battle is more intense and free-swinging.

Unlike four years ago, not just one candidate, but both of them, have held the state's highest office and primary voters have performance records to compare.

King, who lost last May's nonbinding Democratic state convention gubernatorial endorsement to Dukakis and has been trailing him in the voter preference polls from the outset of the campaign, has recently narrowed the gap. A late-August poll taken for the Boston Globe showed Dukakis 22 points ahead of the governor - 53 to 31 percent respectively.

Despite his lead in polls, Dukakis is anything but confident of victory, recalling what happened four years ago.

In his renomination bid, King projects himself as a successful ''tax-cutter'' and his rival as the architect of the heaviest tax increase in the state's history.

Such efforts were somewhat blunted, however, when the governor failed to gain legislative support for repeal of a 7.5 percent income tax surcharge enacted during his predecessor's regime.

Dukakis ads countering King's ''tax-cutter'' claims note that during King's term state college tuitions, driving licenses, and other levies have increased substantially.

At the same time the former governor has been making the most of the corruption issue, capitalizing on last winter's conviction and imprisonment on conspiracy and bribery charges of Barry M. Locke, a former state transportation secretary in the King administration.

Dukakis charges of cronyism come at a time when a grand jury is probing possible wrongdoing within the state's tax collection agency. Since Dukakis's term was free from scandal, King campaign forces have been hard put to defuse the corruption issue.

Both candidates are in hot pursuit of the crime-fighter image, each blaming the other for inadequate response to the problem.

King, an outspoken supporter of capital punishment and tougher penalties for other serious offenses, takes pride in having signed several measures imposing mandatory sentences. During the Dukakis governorship, measures to reinstate the death penalty and provide mandatory minimum sentences for drug pushers were vetoed.

So, too, was legislation raising the minimum drinking age from 18 to 20, which King successfully pushed through in his first year in office.

A major thrust of the current Dukakis anti-crime pitch is for increased police at all levels. The number of patrolmen has been cut back in municipal economy moves stemming from property tax reductions mandated by Proposition 21/2 .

The King camp is hailing recently released FBI crime statistics that indicate that crimes overall declined 3.3 percent in the commonwealth during 1981. During that year, however, the number of serious crimes climbed 8.4 percent.

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