No reelection-bent US senator may be more firmly entrenched than Massachusetts' Edward M. Kennedy. Despite optimistic statements to the contrary by national Republican leaders and conservative activists, there is nothing here in the Bay State to suggest the liberal Democrat is in any danger of being denied a new term.
While there is little doubt Mr. Kennedy will have a Republican opponent in November 1982, it is increasingly apparent that his challenger will not be one of the GOP's heavyweights or even a political middleweight.
Although his formal declaration for reelection still may be several months off, Kennedy is acting more and more like a candidate. And he is taking no chances on supporters becoming overconfident.
Bracing for an almost certain, well-financed enslaught from the political right, the veteran senator is well under way with fund-raising pursuits and strategy mapping.
A recent clambake at his Hyannis Port home brought it well over $100,000 to the Kennedy campaign coffers.
Traditional Kennedy supporters, like leaders of organized labor, already have begun rallying around him. First in line with its endorsement is the political action arm of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO.
The official backing came at a special luncheon Aug. 11 at which the senator, in an address, pledged to fight the fire from the right wing with fire. "This is one target of the Moral Majority that intends to fight back," he asserted.
The senator is obviously counting on not just winning but doing so in such a convincing manner that it would demonstrate his appeal in the face of what may be a continuing conservative tide.
In winning his current six-year term, back in November 1976, he polled 66.5 percent of the vote. Last March, in carrying Massachusetts in the Democratic preference, primary he won 63.9 percent of the vote over then President Jimmy Carter. Since winning a Senate seat for the first time in 1962 election to fill the final two years in the term of his brother then President John F. Kennedy, his weakest showing has been 58.85 percent of the vote cast in his 1972 reelection.
Those Massachusetts Republicans with statewide campaign experience and electoral ambitions have made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that they have no interest in what they consider an impossible assignment.
Even the lure of potentially heavy funding has yet to evoke even a "maybe" from a highvisibility Republican.
Those known to have been approched, at least informally by some concerned state GOP leaders, include US Rep. Margaret M. Heckler, Boston City Councilor John W. Sears, former state Republican chairman Josiah A. Spaulding, and former state and later US Attorney General Elliot L. Richardson.
Some prominent Republicans suggest the prospects for topping Kennedy are so slim that the GOP should save its time, effort, and money for other campaigns such as that for the governorship and state legislative seats.
Most Bay State Republican strategists, however, do not share such sentiments and hold that to give the Democratic incumbent a free ride into another senatorial term would be a concession of weakness on the part of the GOP. Without an opponent, they suggest, Mr. Kennedy would be free to help liberal Democrats win congressional seats in other parts of the nation and in the process perhaps enhance his 1984 presidential aspirations.
Having targeted Kennedy for political defeat nest year, the National Conservative Political Action Committee can be expected to plow considerable effort into the campaign.
Republican National Committee chairman Richard Richards, while in Boston last week for a regional party session, left little doubt of his determination to see that the GOP competed vigorously for the Kennedy seat.
He gave no hint, however, whether there is a potential candidate in mind.
At least one active Republican senatorial candidate--Raymond Shamie, an industrialist and political newcomer--has surfaced.
With a heavy commitment of his own funds to the campaign, the Walpole resident has opened a headquaters and begun putting together his effort to offer the Massachusetts voters a conservative alternative to Kennedy.
While he is admired for his enthusiasm and determination, some party leaders would prefer a better known candidate who if not able to best Senator Kennedy might substantially narrow his winning margin.
They had hoped that Avi Nelson, the conservative who challenged then GOP Sen. Edward W. Brooke for the party's senatorial nomination in 1978, would run. But thus far he has shown no interest in such a campaign against Mr. Kennedy, preferring instead to continue his career as a media commentator.
Also eyeing a bid for the Republican senatorial nomination is Mildred Jefferson, a Boston physician and prominent activist in the antiabortion movement.
Her potential candidacy is of some concern among some prominent Massachusetts Republicans who fear that were she to win the nomination, the campaign would be narrow and revolve around the "right to life" issue on which she and Kennedy are in conflict.
For this reason attempts will be made to discourage her candidacy, which could link the Moral Majority a lot closer to the Bay State GOP than many of its moderate and liberal members would like.
Although conservative Republican Ronald Reagan carried Massachusetts in last November's election, it might be noted that nonconservative factions within the GOP are strong here. In 1978, for example, the party's gubernatorial and senatorial nominations were both won by liberals Francis W. Hatch Jr. and then Senator Brooke