Like early birds of spring, Democratic presidential candidates are winging their way northward into New England's often fertile political nesting grounds. All but one of the party's seven declared or unannounced 1984 White House aspirants have touched down at least once in recent weeks in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The seventh - US Sen. Dale Bumpers of Arkansas - is on his way. He will share the platform with fellow presidential hopefuls at a March 3 Bay State Democratic fund-raiser.
The reason for the early attention to New England: The New Hampshire primary is one of the earliest tests of a candidate's statewide appeal. In the past, the national publicity from a win in New Hampshire has helped the victor generate the momentum that has propelled him to the top of his party's ticket at the national convention.
As for Massachusetts, the state will send a 116-member delegation to the Democratic National Convention next year - the largest in the region. A win here would put a sizable number of delegates into a candidate's column.
The dinner in Massachusetts will for the first time bring together former Vice-President Walter F. Mondale, Sen. Alan Cranston of California, Sen. John Glenn of Ohio, Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado, Sen. Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina, and Senator Bumpers. Only former Florida Gov. Reubin Askew, who had a previous commitment, is expected to miss the affair and the opportunity to woo supporters.
With US Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts out of the race, fierce competition is likely for the Bay State's delegates. An endorsement from Mr. Kennedy would be a big plus for a candidate. But he's shied away from taking sides and seems likely to remain neutral for sometime.
His reluctance to back one of the presidential hopefuls may lead other prominent Massachusetts Democrats to follow suit. This could make it hard for some of the party's would-be nominees to build their Bay State campaign organizations.
US Sen. Paul E. Tsongas (D) of Massachusetts faces reelection in 1984 and has made it clear he is not about to throw his support behind any candidate at least until the spring of that year.
In New Hampshire, whose primary is a year off, Democratic leaders aren't in a hurry to climb aboard any candidate's bandwagon. Political allies of the late two-term Gov. Hugh J. Gallen appear to be leaning in various directions.
Mondale forces had been hoping to rally early support from within this corps of state Democratic activists. In 1980, Mr. Gallen successfully led the New Hampshire presidential primary drive for renomination of President Carter and Vice-President Mondale.
Dudley Dudley, one of New Hampshire's best known Democrats, who led Kennedy's primary drive there four years ago, has met with most of the visiting Democratic White House hopefuls. But she's keeping her options open.
Although not yet a declared candidate, Senator Glenn has on his steering team Joseph Grandmaison, who has the reputation of being one of the party's best organizers.
The date of the 1984 Massachusetts presidential primary is uncertain; Democratic Party rules prohibit it being held on the date now specified by state law. Still, party leaders anticipate a lively competition for delegates here.