Conservatives and other foes of US Sen. Edward M. Kennedy are still shopping for a strong 1982 challenger to the Massachusetts Democrat. Efforts to sway Republican US Rep. Margaret M. Heckler have proved unsuccessful, and, while keeping all of her political options open, the eight-term congresswoman has indicated she intends to seek reelection.
Much could depend on whether her district is radically altered or canibalized by congressional redistricting expected to be completed in December or early next year.
Both state and national GOP strategists generally agree that Mrs. Heckler would be the most formidable Kennedy opponent they could come up with. She had made it clear she would be interested only if she were convinced the campaign was not a lost cause.
So far, only Raymond Shamie, a wealthy conservative industrialist-inventor and political newcomer, has begun campaigning for the GOP senatorial nomination. His formal announcement is scheduled for Oct. 18.
While conceding that the veteran senator may be too firmly entrenched to be toppled, his determined and apparently well-financed opponents are convinced his vote potential can be greatly reduced. Mr. Kennedy, they hold, needs not merely reelection but a big victory at home to boost his 1984 presidential aspirations.
Since winning his seat in 1962, the younger brother of the late President John F. Kennedy never has polled less than 58.8 percent of the total vote cast.
Some Bay State Republican activists favor letting Mr. Kennedy win by default, unless a strong opponent surfaces and soon. But others are concerned that were this to happen, the senator could campaign around the country for other Democratic liberals and funds that might be used in his behalf in Massachusetts would be deployed elsewhere.
The Virginia-based National Conservative Political Action Committee (NICPAC) HAS LONG SINCE TARGETED Kennedy for political extinction in 1982.
The group had hoped to spend $50,000 last month on 30-second television spots in western Massachusetts. But the advertising campaign, similar to one NICPAC is running in the Baltimore-Washington area against US Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D) of Maryland, was rejected by the three Springfield-area stations approached.
In refusing to run the filmed spots, officials of two stations termed the presentations "misleading." The third said its policy was to carry political advertising only if sponsored by a candidate or his political committee.
Although disappointed over not getting television exposure, the conservative organization is not abandoning its efforts in Massachusetts, says Stephen De Angelo, NICPAC political director. Besides the ongoing direct-mail approach, both radio and newspaper advertisements are being considered, he explains.
Besides Mr. Shamie, at least one other Republican -- Dr. Mildred Jefferson, a black physician and antiabortion activist -- is known to be eyeing the GOP nomination.
It is uncertain whether Kennedy will have competition for the Democratic nomination in next September's state primary.
Kennedy's campaign organization, which has raised more than $700,000, according to a spokesman, expects to spend $2 million.
Conservative forces have tentatively committed in excess of $1 million in attempting to unseat or embarrass Kennedy in 1982.