The Kennedy camp believes it can win the New Hampshire primary and, in so doing, turn the Democratic presidential campaign completely around. "There are a lot of objective observers who think that if Kennedy can beat Carter in one primary, the Carter campaign will disintegrate," said deputy Kennedy campaign manager Patrick Lucey.
Mr. Lucey cited the following Kennedy pluses as the Massachusetts senator moves toward a Feb. 26 New Hampshire showdown with President Carter:
* The senator's relatively close second- place finish in the Maine caucuses has "inspired the campaign workers. The impact all over the country has been phenomenal," Mr. Lucey said, "because so many thought Maine would be a disaster."
* The senator is winning widespread voter approval for his wage-price freeze proposal -- and also for his questioning of the President on foreign policy.
* "Chappaquiddick is fading a bit . . . as voters find certain kennedy issues , which he now is proposing, they like."
* President Carter's failure to campaign, and in particular his refusal to debate the senator, is "beginning to hurt Carter and help Kennedy."
* The senator's position against draft registration has helped to reinvigorate his campaign by adding a large number of young, enthusiastic workers to Kennedy organizations all over the United States.
Mr. Lucey, a former governor of Wisconsin and more recently US Ambassador to Mexico, said, "We're going after a win in New Hampshire.
I'm not saying we will win there," he continued, in a breakfast conversation with reporters Feb. 13, "or that we have to win. But we think we can win."
The Kennedy campaign adviser said that while the senator's strategy includes a hope for a quick turnaround in New Hampshire, it also includes a scenario where the senator would battle it out with the President right up to the convention.
"In fact," he said, "I think it is very likely that this contest will finally be resolved on the floor of the convention."
What if Senator Kennedy loses to Mr. Carter in New Hampshire as badly as he did in Iowa? Mr. Lucey was asked. He said that the senator would "keep slogging on."
The Lucey projections actually did not show much in the way of hope for Mr. Kennedy (except in Massachusetts, where he is far out in front in the polls) until the Wisconsin primary on April 1.
Even in Wisconsin, the polls show Mr. Carter about 3-to-1 ahead of Mr. Kennedy at this time.
"When Kennedy actually comes into Wisconsin, he'll start to turn things around in his favor," Mr. Lucey countered.
But can Senator Kennedy wait until April 1 to start winning primaries other than Massachusetts? a reporter asked.
"Yes," said Mr. Lucey. "I don't think he'll have to wait that long. But we will be able to keep in the race. And in the meantime, we will have picked up a lot of delegates."
Mr. Lucey said the Kennedy forces will campaign hard in Southern primaries, too, in an effort to pick up some delegates, even though the President will be heavily favored to win these contests.