Neither major contender for the Democratic presidential nomination can afford to be complacent after the Maine causcuses. To be sure, Edward Kennedy has reason to be pleased by the results. After the withering rout in Iowa, the Senator had to make a sturdy showing in Maine and so the outcome rejuvenates his campaign. He can well conclude that his strong organizational efforts in Maine and his decision to go on the offensive against President Carter's foreign and domestic policies have paid off. He remains a viable candidate -- at least for one big primary battle.
However, this interpretation can easily be overdrawn. The fact is, Senator Kennedy is New England's most prominent and influential politician and should have been able to swing the voters of Maine, in effect home soil. But he was defeated. Not only did Mr. Carter best him. Governor Jerry Brown of California won a respectable 12 percent of the vote, a portion of which must have cut into Mr. Kennedy's support. This suggests the Senator remains in serious trouble and , although he is a bit more bouyant, he has a mighty struggle ahead in the New Hampshire primary, which now takes on heightened importance. If he does not pull a victory out of that contest (and assuming he willm win in Massachusetts, where a Boston Globe poll shows him with a two-to-one lead over Mr. Carter), it is hard to see how he can keep his candidacy alive. The subsequent bouts with the President will take place, after all, on Mr. Carter's own southern turf.
The President, for his part, expected to do better than he did in Maine. Still taking the I'm-too-busy road of dealing with affairs of state, he sent Rosalynn Carter, Chip Carter, and others to Maine to tell voters they should send a message to the world of unity behind the President. That theme worked in Iowa, where voters indeed seemed to be patriotically signalling the Iranians and the Russians they were foursquare behind Mr. Carter and his policies. but indications are that Maine Democrats grumbled about the President's unwillingness to come out and campaign.
Mr. Carter may have won the Maine caucuses but, with a 47 percent victory, he did not win a majority of the Maine vote. This should give him pause. He probably wound prefer to rely on the Senator's often inept personal appearances, contentious policy stands, and the ever-present issue of Chappaquiddick -- as well as on his own presidential performance -- to erode and end the Kennedy challenge. But it is clear that the time has come to get involved in the political fray and face up to his opponents, Democratic and Republican. Many legitimate questions are being raised about his policies, especially as they now evolve in the world arena, and the American public deserves to hear his defense of them. An early opportunity for this would be the League of Women voters' Democratic forum scheduled for February 19. Jerry Brown has already agreed to debate and we hope the President and Senator Kennedy soon add their acceptances -- especially now that the Governor of California has proved he is a creditable opponent and a factor, however small, in the Democratic race.
Organizational drives, media blitzes, and poll taking have dominated much of the candidates' campaigning so far. We think Americans are ready for a better airing of the issues. The large turnout of voters for the Maine caucuses -- five times as many as four years ago -- as well as for the presidential caucuses in Iowa seem to point to a growing interest in the political scene. That is a trend worth encouraging by more face-to-face confrontation of the candidates and more public discussion of policies that may guide the nation in the decade ahead.