Massachusetts GOP hopes 'Reagan Democrats' turn Republican

Kelly Lydon, a worker for the Reagan-Bush reelection campaign in Massachusetts, spends 12 hours a day talking on the phone with Democrats. Some hang up on him. Others are undecided. Many say they will stick with their party's nominee, Walter F. Mondale. But just as many say they will vote for President Reagan, says Mr. Lydon.

From a second-floor den in the Dedham Community Center, Lydon and four volunteers have polled more than 500 registered Democrats and independents in suburban Norwood and Canton. Their findings in these communities concur with statewide polls that show Mr. Reagan leading Mr. Mondale in the state by 10 to 12 percentage points.

Both presidential candidates are scheduled to appear at rallies in Boston this week - Reagan on Thursday and Mondale on Friday. Mondale campaign spokesmen say their candidate can still win here with minorities, the elderly, and the labor vote.

Massachusetts, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 4 to 1, has been a stronghold for liberal Democrats. In the past 60 years, the Bay State electoral vote has gone to only three Republican presidential candidates - Calvin Coolidge, a former Massachusetts governor, in 1924; Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956; and Ronald Reagan in 1980.

John Anderson's independent candidacy and Jimmy Carter's unpopularity helped Mr. Reagan edge the incumbent Democratic President in 1980. This year, says Republican Lydon, Democratic voters, including those in the ''working-class towns'' of Norwood and Canton, ''feel the Democrats have let them down. The Democratic hierarchy in Massachusetts just can't take Democrats for granted anymore.''

Indeed, a number of prominent Democrats in business and politics - many from the administration of former Gov. Edward J. King - have joined a statewide group called Democrats for Reagan. Members have raised about $25,000 for the campaign and have worked to ''generate support for the President from among Democratic voters,'' says Frank H. Conway, co-chairman of Reagan-Bush '84/Massachusetts Committee.

Boston City Councilor James M. Kelly is one Democrat who is pulling for the President. ''I didn't leave them. They've left me over the years,'' he says of the state Democratic Party. Councilor Kelly says he opposes much of the Democratic platform, including its support of abortion, busing to achieve school desegregation, and quotas in miniority hiring.

Groups called Democrats for Reagan exist in all 50 states, and they work in conjunction with the local Reagan-Bush campaign staffs, says Schuyler Babb, national coalition director for the Reagan-Bush campaign. These groups were a ''critical part of the campaign effort in 1980 - and will be this year, too,'' he adds.

Four years ago Reagan captured 41.8 percent of the Massachusetts vote to Carter's 41.7 percent and Anderson's 15.2 percent. This year, ''Reagan will win Massachusetts with Democratic and independent support,'' Mr. Conway predicts. The President needs 1.5 million votes to carry the state - and Conway expects him to get 1.6 million by winning a third of the Democratic vote, 60 percent of the independent vote, and all of the GOP vote.

But for now, Massachusetts remains a staunchly Democratic state - at least on the voter-registration rolls. Conway concedes that the state GOP has not yet capitalized on Reagan's popularity among Democrats and independents.

Massachusetts Democrats who are ideologically aligned with the Republicans often find it difficult ''to break with the party of their parents,'' Conway suggests. The state GOP says many Democrats, especially young people, are just now beginning to switch their registration. Because of the strong support for the President and the strong showing among local Republican candidates, Democrats ''will not find it as hard to go out and register as Republicans after this election,'' says Gene Hardigan, executive director of the Republican State Committee.

Whatever the tally on voter-registration rolls, the real barometer of political change in Massachusetts may be the US Senate race between Democrat John Kerry and Republican Raymond Shamie. Lydon says this race offers people ''a clear choice. Voters can either go very far to the left or else they'll go very, very conservative.''

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