Warning to Massachusetts GOP: watch that right-ward tilt

MASSACHUSETTS Republican leaders seem determined to put all their eggs in one basket -- one tilted heavily to the right. The state GOP, however, may already be too lopsided, or too fragile, to hold its growing collection of conservatives, including former Gov. Edward J. King.

While not about to appear inhospitable to anyone joining their ranks, some moderate and liberal Republicans clearly are less than thrilled at the prospect of their party becoming more and more monolithic.

Several, like Francis W. Hatch Jr. of Beverly, the 1978 GOP nominee for governor, are not about to form a welcoming committee for Mr. King or others who might tend to lessen their party's appeal to nonconservatives.

But for better or worse, King and an array of other conservative former Democrats have joined them -- including Edward F. Harrington, the US attorney for Massachusetts during the Carter administration.

King is hardly ready to declare his candidacy for office, at least until the ink is a bit drier on his GOP enrollment certificate. But there is little doubt that he is thinking about another reach for the governorship.

Much could depend on the length of the welcome mat that awaits King, following his June 3 entrance into the Republican Party. While most of the prominent Massachusetts Republicans are conservatives, GOP voters are probably more moderate.

Ideologically there is little doubt that the former governor will find himself more comfortable as a Republican than he was as a Democrat. Politically, however, his big jump might not prove all that advantageous, either in terms of his gubernatorial comeback prospects or in genuine acceptance within GOP voter ranks, where the Democratic label could be hard to shed.

King could have problems convincing fellow Republicans that he is really one of them and not merely a political opportunist, trying to take the easy road to the 1986 gubernatorial election ballot.

Those who for other than purely partisan reasons were unimpressed with his administration from 1979 to 1982 will need to be persuaded that a Republican Governor King would be different from what they saw in Democratic Governor King.

Clearly the image of his administration was not as bright as he would have liked. And that almost surely contributed to his defeat in the 1982 Democratic primary by Gov. Michael S. Dukakis.

Certainly nobody can question King's credentials as a conservative. This and his unflinching, consistent support for President Reagan helped make him the latter's ``favorite Democratic governor.'' And that could hardly detract from his appeal in attempting to regain the governorship, and as a card-carrying Republican.

But as bona fide a conservative as King may be, so, too, are others within Bay State GOP ranks who are interested in the party's 1986 gubernatorial nomination. If nothing else, a stiff primary contest might help deepen GOP voter ranks in the state, which as of last September had shrunk to about 386,000, only about 14 percent of the electorate.

Because GOP membership is low, even with the addition of King, former US Attorney Harrington, former state revenue commissioner L. Joyce Hampers, and others, those who would remold the Republican party along more conservative lines should think twice.

What the GOP may most need to win back the governorship, which it has not had since 1974, is a candidate who can rally the support of a large cross section of voters, and not just win the gubernatorial nomination.

There is no shortage of potential GOP candidates. Besides King, they include businessman John R. Lakian of Westwood; former US Rep. Paul W. Cronin of Andover; US Attorney William F. Weld of Cambridge; House minority leader William G. Robinson of Melrose; state Sen. David H. Locke of Wellesley; Walpole industrialist Raymond Shamie, last year's GOP nominee for US Senate; and former state Rep. Andrew H. Card Jr. of Holbrook.

Thus far, however, only Guy Carbone of Watertown, a former Democrat who headed the Metropolitan District Commission during the early months of the King administration, has formally declared his candidacy.

Except for Mr. Card, a political moderate and now a special assistant to the President for intergovernmental affairs, all of the above are conservatives -- some to a greater degree than others.

Regardless of who winds up with the GOP nomination, broadening the party's base to embrace as many voters as possible would seem little short of essential, unless the party is prepared at the outset to effectively write off the governorship for another four years.

Those who think otherwise may be doing a disservice to themselves, their party, and the state government.

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