Politicians like to ride presidential coattails into office, but New Englanders, a pretty independent lot, are adept ballot splitters. Thus, no matter how well President Reagan fares around this six-state region in the Nov. 6 election - and he is expected to do very well, indeed - fellow Republican candidates may find it hard to capitalize on his popularity.
Yet that is exactly what many GOP candidates are attempting as election day approaches and voter-preference samplings throughout most of this region favor the President's reelection.
Perhaps no other contest will provide as clear a test of the pull of the Reagan tide as the one in Massachusetts for the US Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Paul Tsongas. Republican nominee Raymond Shamie has made his campaign pretty much an echo of the President's policy postions.
Recent polls give Mr. Reagan a 12-point lead in Massachusetts over Democrat Walter Mondale. But they show the Republican senatorial candidate trailing the Democratic nominee, Lt. Gov. John F. Kerry, by nine points.
The President is especially anxious to win the Massachusetts senatorial post for his party. It was wrested from the GOP six years ago by Mr. Tsongas. A Shamie victory could bolster the ranks of conservative Republicans in the Senate and help ensure continued GOP control there.
New England candidates for the US House of Representatives who would particularly benefit from a big vote for the President in their districts are the GOP contenders for Democrat-held seats from Connecticut's Third and Fifth Congressional Districts, and the Fifth and 10th Districts in Massachusetts.
In the Bay State's Fifth District, Republican Gregory Hyatt of Methuen, a leader in the campaign that brought property tax-cutting Proposition 21/2 onto the books, is battling State Sen. Chester G. Atkins of Concord, a liberal Democrat, for the seat being vacated, after six years, by Democratic US Rep. James M. Shannon.
Key issues are the federal deficit and Reagan administration defense policies. Mr. Hyatt is attempting to identify his Democratic opponent with the raising of state taxes and increased government spending. Mr. Atkins, the Senate Ways and Means Committee chairman for the past six years, is running substantially on his legislative record and lashing out against the growing federal military budget and Reagan administration reductions in funds for human services.
Similarly within reach for the GOP, as Massachusetts Republican leaders view it, is the 10th district, where liberal Democratic US Rep. Gerry E. Studds, censured by the House last year for a 1973 homosexual affair with a teen-age congressional page, is seeking a seventh term. His ballot foe, Lewis Crampton, a moderate Republican and former official in the federal Environmental Protection Agency, has shied away from making the censure a campaign issue.
When questioned on the matter, Mr. Crampton asserts that the censure ''is a serious punishment, certainly, but it is not up to me to tell the voters how to vote on that particular issue.''
The GOP challenger has tried to portray Mr. Studds as a supporter of the higher taxes proposed by Democratic presidential nominee Mondale to curb the federal deficit.
Meanwhile, the Democratic congressman has sought to tie the former EPA official to various Reagan administration tax measures such as boosts in social security withholding and tax hikes adopted to stem the climbing federal deficit.
Focal point of the Connecticut campaign, where the latest poll shows the President with a 57-to-32 percent edge over Mr. Mondale, is the Third District, where former Republican US Rep. Lawrence J. DeNardis is seeking to turn the political tables on liberal Democratic US Rep. Bruce A. Morrison, who toppled him two years ago.
Mr. DeNardis has been keying his campaign to the improved economy through programs of the GOP President which he has supported enthusiastically. His Italian ancestry similarly could be an asset since a substantial potion of the Third District electorate has similar ethnic roots.
Congressman Morrison is relying heavily on what he considers his major accomplishments for the district, including helping acquire federal funds for housing rehabilitation in New Haven.
In the Nutmeg State's Fifth District, Democrat William R. Ratchford, a third-term incumbent who four years ago came close to being unseated but won reelection convincingly in 1982, is being challenged by Republican State Rep. John Rowland of Waterbury.
The Rowland candidacy is boosted somewhat by his having twice been elected to the state legislature from heavily Democratic Waterbury, the district's largest city and his home town.
Mr. Ratchford and his supporters, citing his membership on the House Appropriations Committee, hold that he can do more for the area than could a freshman congressman.
Two of New England's most fiercely contested election contests are for the governorships in Rhode Island and Vermont, both of whose fourth-term chief executives are retiring.
In the Green Mountain State, former Lt. Gov. Madeleine M. Kunin, a liberal who in 1982 unsuccessfully tried to topple moderate Republican Gov. Richard A. Snelling, and Republican gubernatorial nominee John J. Easton Jr., the Vermont attorney general, are in a very close contest.
Leadership seems to be the primary issue. Mr. Easton is advocating no new programs while Mrs. Kunin holds that such a stance would lead to little more than a caretaker regime.
If elected, she would be the first woman governor of Vermont and only its third Democratic chief executive.
Equally close appears to be the gubernatorial battle in overwhelmingly Democratic Rhode Island, between Democrat Anthony J. Solomon, the state treasurer, and Edward J.D. Diprete, the Republican mayor of Cranston. The latter , if elected, would be the first GOP governor in nearly two decades.
Mr. Solomon, who won the gubernatorial nomination even though passed over for endorsement by the state's party leadership in favor of Warwick Mayor Joseph Walsh, is making the most of this, suggesting he is thus not beholden to party regulars.
Mayor Diprete could benefit from the division within Rhode Island Democratic ranks.
Who best can provide leadership to rebuild the state's economy is the major gubernatorial campaign issue.
In New Hampshire the gubernatorial contest is considerably less of a close match. GOP incumbent John Sununu is seeking a second term against Democrat Chris Spirou of Manchester, the minority floor leader in the Granite State's House of Representatives. Mr. Spirou is calling for a halt to the construction of the increasingly costly and controversial Seabrook nuclear power plant.
Governor Sununu, who, when he took office, helped bring the state back from a
The gubernatorial campaign is overshadowed by that for the US Senate between Sen. Gordon J. Humphrey, the conservative incumbent, and Democratic US Rep. Norman E. D'Amours of the First District.
Both the challenger, a liberal, and Senator Humphrey, a first-term ultraconservative, have been attempting to moderate their positions to attract support from independents and political centrists.
A big win for President Reagan in New Hampshire, with its usual large conservative GOP voting bloc, could be a particular plus for Senator Humphrey, who has strong philosophical ties to the President.
Vying to win the D'Amours congressional seat are Democratic Executive Councilor Dudley W. Dudley of Durham, a liberal, and conservative Republican Robert C. Smith, a realtor from Tuftonboro.
Perhaps nowhere in the region may the dimensions of the Reagan vote have less impact than in the contest for US senator in Maine, where incumbent Republican moderate William S. Cohen appears in a particularly strong position to win a second term.
State Rep. Elizabeth H. Mitchell of Vassalboro, the Democratic senatorial nominee, has been trying to make political hay out of her GOP foe's acceptance of funds from PACs (political action committees) while she has refused financing from such sources.
Senator Cohen, who six years ago won his seat by upsetting Democrat Sen. William D. Hathaway, is running largely on his record, including attention to local concerns such as problems of the shoe and fishing industries, which are crucial to the Maine economy.
If Ms. Mitchell were elected, Maine would have two Mitchells in the US senate. Democrat George J. Mitchell (no relation) was reelected two years ago after having been first appointed to his seat by Democratic Gov. Joseph E. Brennan in 1980 when longtime Sen. Edmund S. Muskie became US secretary of state.
Ms. Mitchell, a liberal who is Democratic floor leader in the state House of Representatives, is an outspoken advocate of a nuclear arms freeze. She faults Mr. Cohen for his support of the ''build down'' arms control approach and his backing of the MX missile.
Somewhat closer could be the battle for Congress in Maine's First District between first-term Republican US Rep. John McKernan Jr. and Democratic State Rep. Barry Hobbins of Saco. The GOP incumbent narrowly won the seat two years ago. Mr. Hobbins gained considerable exposure throughout the district as Democratic state chairman, a post he resigned last spring to press his current candidacy.
Rhode Island's fourth-term Democratic US Sen. Claiborne Pell, who six years ago breezed to reelection with 76 percent of the vote, is generally expected to have a somewhat tougher time next week. His Republican challenger this fall is Barbara Leonard, president of a screw manufacturing firm and political newcomer whose campaign is keyed substantially to a program for balancing the federal budget by 1986.
Senator Pell, largely ignoring the Leonard candidacy, is running on his record.