Democratic dominance of New England's congressional delegation appears safe at least for another two years. Even a reelection blitz by Republican President Ronald Reagan - with political coattails stretching from potato country in northern Maine to the New York City bedroom communities in southwest Connecticut - might not be enough to give the GOP a majority of the regions seats in the US Senate and House.
Democrats, however, may have a tough time holding their control, currently nearly 2 to 1 over Republicans, within New England's 36-member delegation.
In jeopardy is the Senate seat in Massachusetts that Democrat Paul E. Tsongas wrested six years ago from Republican Edward W. Brooke. For family and health reasons, Senator Tsongas is not seeking reelection.
In addition, at least four of the region's 16 Democratic-held seats in the US House may also be within grasp of the GOP. Two of these are in Massachusetts, one in Connecticut, and one in New Hampshire.
Meanwhile, Democratic prospects for congressional gains within the region are slim, although the possibility of one or two upsets cannot be ruled out.
In New Hampshire, for example, first-term conservative GOP Sen. Gordon J. Humphrey is facing what could be a stiff challenge from fifth-term US Rep. Norman E. D'Amours (D), a moderate by contrast. GOP retention of this seat could hinge partly on the incumbent's strong identification on social and fiscal issues with the President. Four years ago, New Hampshire gave Mr. Reagan his first big push toward the White House.
A second and perhaps even more vulnerable GOP seat is in the First Congressional District in neighboring Maine, where US Rep. John R. McKernan Jr. is bent on reelection. In 1982, he won the open seat by fewer than 6,000 votes. His current ballot foe, state Rep. Barry Hobbins of Saco, is the former Democratic Party state chairman.
But the Democrats are vulnerable, too. Two of the year's most fiercely contested races in New England are in Massachusetts: the Tsongas Senate seat and the 10th Congressional District seat now held by US Rep. Gerry E. Studds. Hundreds of thousands of dollars, much of them from out of state, are being poured into these races.
In the Senate contest, both the Democratic and Republican nominations have been particularly hard fought.
On the Republican side, political veteran Elliot L. Richardson and industrialist Raymond Shamie are vying for a spot on the November ballot. Although voter-preference samplings indicate a strong lead for Mr. Richardson, a former lieutenant governor and state attorney general, Mr. Shamie remains very much in the running.
Shamie, a conservative from Walpole and a self-made millionaire, two years ago waged a strong challenge to Democratic US Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. He is keying his campaign largely to his strong support for President Reagan and administration policies.
Richardson, who has served in the federal government under five presidents, makes it clear he is a Reagan supporter although he says he may occasionally differ on some points.
On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. John F. Kerry and US Rep. James M. Shannon, both liberals, are running neck-and-neck. Polls show they are far ahead of fellow candidates Michael J. Connolly, Massachusetts secretary of state, and David M. Bartley, former speaker of the Massachusetts House.
In the 10th Congressional District, a one-time Republican stronghold, sixth-term Democrat Gerry Studds may be in deep political trouble despite strong support from fellow liberals and activist groups, such as Americans for Democratic Action. Mr. Studds is facing what could be his toughest ballot challenge from fellow Democrat Peter Y. Flynn, a former state representative who is now sheriff of Plymouth County.
Overshadowing the battle for the Democratic nomination is Studds' 1983 censure by the US House for a homosexual affair with a teen-aged congressional page 10 years ago.
A random telephone poll of registered Democrats in the district, completed last week by the Patriot Ledger of Quincy, gave Studds a 39 percent to 7 percent lead over Mr. Flynn. A third candidate, Christopher Trundy (D) of New Bedford, received 1 percent. A whopping 53 percent said they are still undecided.
Regardless of which candidate wins the Democratic primary on Sept. 18, the Republicans are ready to meet the challenge. Three GOP candidates - including Lewis Crampton, who waged a strong campaign as the party's nominee for state treasurer in 1978 - are vying for the Republican nomination to run for the Studds seats. Also in the running are attorney George Donovan of Hull and John Bennett, a Provincetown realtor.
Massachusetts Republicans are also making a major effort to win the Fifth Congressional District, where Democratic Representative Shannon gave up his seat to run for the Senate. This district, a longtime Republican stronghold until snatched from the GOP in 1974, stretches from Framingham to Lawrence and embraces 30 communities in Boston's western suburbs and the Merrimack Valley.
Two state senators - Chester G. Atkins of Concord and Philip L. Shea of Lowell - are battling for the Democratic nomination. As the party's state chairman, Mr. Atkins may be better known throughout the area. But Mr. Shea, who is more conservative on social issues such as support for capital punishment and opposition to public funding of abortion, has the advantage of coming from the part of the district that is more heavily populated. For decades, the Lowell area is the place that has produced the district's congressmen.
The Republican candidates for the Fifth District seat are Gregory Hyatt, a Methuen lawyer, and Thomas Tierney, a Framingham actuary. Mr. Hyatt is former executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, the group which successfully pushed through Proposition 21/2. He is considered to be the front-runner for the Republican nomination.
Elsewhere in New England, GOP prospects are brightest in two other Democratic-held US House seats: New Hampshire's First District and Connecticut's Third District.
In Connecticut, Republican Lawrence DeNardis, who narrowly lost his US House seat two years ago to Democrat Bruce A. Morrison, is making a strong comeback bid. This is an area where riding on Reagan's coattails could be especially helpful.
A Democratic incumbent whose seat may not be safe is Connecticut's third-term US Rep. William R. Ratchford, who is being challenged for his fifth district seat by Republican state Rep. John Rowland.
In politically conservative New Hampshire, a strong Reagan vote could also help a Republican capture the First Congressional District. Incumbent Norman D'Amours (D) is not seeking reelection in favor of his Senate race. Competing for their party's nomination in the Sept. 11 primary are Robert Monier of Goffstown, former state Senate president; Robert C. Smith of Wolfboro, a realtor and previous candidate for the seat; and Lawrence Brady, a former assistant US secretary of Commerce within the Reagan administration.
Campaigning for the Democratic nomination are state Rep. James Demers of Dover, state Executive Councilor Dudley Dudley of Durham, who four years ago spearheaded Edward M. Kennedy's presidential drive in the Granite State; and political newcomer Steven Grycel of Derry.
Two other New England Senate seats at stake in November - those of Maine Republican William S. Cohen and Rhode Island's Democrat Claiborne Pell - appear safe for the incumbents. Senator Cohen is facing Democratic state Rep. Elizabeth Mitchell and Senator Pell's ballot opposition is GOP industrialist Barbara Leonard.