Boston — Political conservatives have fallen on hard times here in the nation's northeast corner.
Voters in at least three of the four New England states with Sept. 14 primary contests for major offices have almost invariably chosen moderates or liberals over those philosophically to the right.
In Massachusetts former Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, unseated four years ago by conservative Edward J. King for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, this time turned the tables on his successor.
And in the process, the comeback-bent Bay State liberal bested the state chief executive 54 to 46 percent.
Mr. Dukakis now faces former Boston City Councilor John W. Sears, a moderate Republican who, with 50 percent of the vote cast in the GOP primary, topped his two ballot rivals, conservative businessman John R. Lakian and fellow-moderate state Rep. Andrew H. Card Jr.
At the same time, two liberals topped a field of five contenders for the Democratic nomination for state lieutenant governor, with John F. Kerry, one-time national head of Veterans Against the Vietnam War, finally slipping past former state Environmental Affairs Secretary Evelyn F. Murphy. The lone conservative in that contest - state Rep. Louis R. Nickinello - wound up a distant fourth.
In Vermont, veteran US Sen. Robert T. Stafford, a Republican moderate, easily won renomination, polling 47 percent of the vote over his two conservative challengers. Stewart Ledbetter, a former state banking and insurance commissioner who two years ago narrowly missed unseating Democratic US Sen. Patrick Leahy, received 35 percent of the latest GOP vote and John McClaughry, a former White House aid in the Reagan administration, got 18 percent.
The Stafford foe on the Nov. 2 senatorial ballot will be James Guest, a Democratic liberal and former Vermont secretary of state who breezed by archconservative state Sen. Thomas McGregor.
Vermonters also nominated Republican Gov. Richard A. Snelling for a fourth term. His opponent will be liberal Democratic Lt. Gov. Madeleine Kunin.
In Rhode Island, liberal Democrat Julius C. Michaelson, a former state attorney general, swept by his lone primary foe, Helen Flynn, an antiabortionist mother of nine. Mr. Michaelson, whose vote margin was nearly 43,000, faces Sen. John H. Chafee, a moderate Republican.
Running unopposed in the New Hampshire Democratic primary, Gov. Hugh J. Gallen, a moderate, advanced to the election ballot. Competition for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, however, is a political cliffhanger, with the outcome not expected to be known until later in the week. The apparent winner, however, is GOP conservative John Sununu, a Tufts University engineering professor, who polled 31.7 percent of the primary vote.