BOSTON — MASSACHUSETTS' powerful band of Democratic congressmen faces an uncertain political future at a time when congressional incumbents all over the United States brace for tough reelection battles.
Bay State congressmen - like US House members in states from Maine to California - are in for some hotly contested races this fall as challengers seek to take advantage of redistricting and a growing anti-incumbent mood.
The breaking up of the 11-member congressional team could mean a loss in state influence on Capitol Hill. Traditionally, the Bay State delegation, now all-Democratic, has wielded considerable power in the US House of Representatives.
At present, Rep. Joseph Moakley is chairman of the Rules Committee, Rep. Edward Markey is chairman of the Telecommunications and Finance Subcommittee, and Rep. Gerry Studds is poised to become chairman of the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee if reelected this fall.
"Massachusetts has a considerable amount of clout, I think more so than other states its size," says William Schneider, political analyst for the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. He calls the delegation "relatively cohesive and effective."
But Republicans are counting on William Weld, the state's popular new GOP governor, to enhance the chances of the party's candidates in Massachusetts.
In addition, a newly redistricted congressional map agreed on by Governor Weld and the Democratic-controlled legislature last month threatens at least two Democratic incumbents.
But in this heavily Democratic state the incumbent Democrats may face tougher opposition from challenges by members of their own party in the primary election, Mr. Schneider suggests.
Political observers point to four Democratic incumbents who face serious reelection fights this fall:
* Third District Rep. Joseph Early is fending off attacks stemming from his involvement in the scandal over misuse of the House of Representatives' bank. The nine-term congressman, listed as one of the 24 House members who consistently wrote bad checks, has been accused of writing 140 bad checks and overdrawing his account in 15 out of 39 months. Constituents have also complained that he is out of touch with his district.
* Rep. Nicholas Mavroules (Sixth District) is under federal investigation for his financial dealings, including accepting free use of automobiles. Representative Mavroules also faces strong challenges by a liberal Democratic woman, Barbara Hildt, and two Republicans.
* Rep. Chester Atkins, who lost his Framingham, Mass., base of support through redistricting, faces Democrat Martin Meehan, a former Middlesex County prosecutor, and two Republican challengers. One is former Bay State Congressman Paul Cronin.
* Congressman Studds has seen redistricting cut his Cape Cod district in half, and will lose the city of New Bedford, a Democratic stronghold. He faces strong Democratic opposition from state Sen. Paul Harold and Norfolk County District Attorney William Delahunt. Governor Weld's former economic affairs aide, Dan Daley, and lawyer Michael Crossen are vying for the Republican nomination.
GOP strategists also singled out Studds because of his 1983 House censure for having a homosexual affair with a teen-age page, says Joseph Slavet, senior associate of the McCormack Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.
"Are there vulnerabilities? Sure. Are the Republicans going to try to take advantage of those vulnerabilities? No question about it," says Steve Grossman, chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party.
But both parties are unhappy about redistricting. The 1990 United States Census count has left Massachusetts with 10 instead of 11 congressional seats. Since Rep. Brian Donnelly has decided not to run for reelection this year, each of the 10 new districts will have one incumbent.
But the redistricted map presents opportunities for minorities. It includes a new Boston district made up of 38 percent minority residents. Boston City Councilor Charles Yancey, a Democrat who is a leader in the minority community, recently announced his intention to enter the race for that congressional seat, but the incumbent, Rep. Joseph Kennedy II will be difficult to dislodge.
Paul Watanabe, professor of political science at the University of Massachsetts, Boston, says Mr. Kennedy "is unlikely to be unseated." Mr. Watanabe points out that Kennedy usually gets a large share of the minority vote.
But at least a few Bay State incumbent congressmen may have their work cut out for them this fall.
In fact, both redistricting and the loss of public trust in Congress are issues that could open the door for a whole new crop of Republican and Democratic congressional members from states around the country, Mr. Cronin says.