If anyone doubted that politics in 1984 is shifting to new moorings, consider Massachusetts - the bastion of liberal Democrats that stuck by George McGovern in 1972, and of moderate Republicans who sent Elliot Richardson to Washington to play a full octave of Cabinet positions. Massachusetts went for Ronald Reagan in 1980. And it has just picked a populist conservative, Ray Shamie, over Mr. Richardson as the GOP standard-bearer for this fall's United States Senate race.
Talk about national attention: Is this going on in Massachusetts, the political base of Sen. Edward Kennedy and of House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. - who are, respectively, the Republicans' ideological and legislative antagonists. A GOP upset victory in the Bay State by Mr. Shamie, who all but outdoes President Reagan himself in opposing a tax increase to fight government deficits, must be an enticing prospect for the President's party. It will be another uphill challenge for Shamie, who lost to Senator Kennedy by a 3-to-2 margin in 1982. Registered Republicans are still scarce in Massachusetts, only about 400,000, compared with 1.2 million independents and 1.3 million Democrats. But even a strong showing by Shamie against the Democratic nominee, Lt. Gov. John F. Kerry, would put him in the company of New York's Lewis E. Lehrman and Michigan's Richard H. Headlee; that is, of showing a surprising new strength for energetic GOP economic conservatives.
Note the acceptance-speech themes of the Lebanese-American Shamie, a self-made millionaire: ''I stand before you tonight as someone who knows what it is to be poor and someone who has felt discrimination. As a working man who has never stopped working. As someone who identifies with small business, not big business. As a grandchild of immigrants who only asked to be called Americans. ... I believe in a visionary and compassionate conservatism.''
His opponent, Mr. Kerry, is an equally effective speaker, whose major theme combines his Vietnam war experience with a dedication to future peace.
For national interest, the Kerry-Shamie race merits watching with, among others, the bitter North Carolina Senate contest between GOP incumbent Jesse A. Helms, a social-issue conservative, and Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. The economies and social structures of both states are greatly changing: Can political change be far behind?