WHEN immigrants got off the boats here at the turn of the century, Democratic Party members were on the docks to give them their first big welcome. Today, Massachusetts Republicans are using similar tactics: In this heavily Democratic state, they are wooing those who are poor, tired of taxes, and hungry for fiscal solvency. And they are doing it '80s style: through radio and direct-mail ads.
``The less sense they make, the more sense we make,'' is one slogan in this ``Victory '90'' campaign, designed to recruit new GOP candidates and topple Democrats in next state election.
The outreach by Republicans is coming now because many voters are angry over the double whammy of a new 18-month tax to cover a multimillion-dollar shortfall in the 1989 budget as well as severely slashed spending in the 1990 budget.
Still, it will mean a radical departure for Massachusetts politics if the new climate actually translates into strong new Republican voting bloc. This was the only state whose voters sided with George McGovern in the 1972 presidential election. Republicans have not controlled the House since the '50s, or the Senate since the '60s. In past years, Republicans have been unable to find candidates to run for many House and Senate seats.
But despite its national reputation as a liberal bastion, things have been changing. Massachusetts did pass a property tax limitation initiative, Proposition 2 1/2, in 1980. It is just one sign of voter concern - and Republicans say their day is coming.
Executive director Alexander Tennant says the new party headquarters in Watertown gets 3,000 calls a week. There are 19,000 activists on file. People are calling to volunteer, change parties, and offer themselves as candidates, he says.
One object of the campaign, Mr. Tennant says, is to convince people there is a ``new Republican party.'' The headquarters also houses party organizations designed to reach out to blacks, Hispanics, and students. ``Our job is to show people that we represent working men and women. The Democrats have been soft on crime, haven't done well on education.... People are fed up.''
David Locke of Sherborn, the party's Senate floor leader, says, ``It's a better time to be a Republican here than I've seen it in years. The public gradually is beginning to recognize the tragedy of one party controlling the state for so long a time.''
A recent Boston Herald-WCVB poll showed that, despite voter registration running 3-to-1 Democratic, 31 percent of voters said they were planning to vote in the Republican primary; 31 percent in the Democratic primary. The rest were undecided.
The Herald has been leading an anti-tax crusade. Several radio talk shows have also whipped voter concerns. But will such discontent translate to Republicans taking the lead in state politics?
While it is still too soon to tell, John Marttila, a partner with Marttila & Kiley, a strategic consulting and polling firm, says, he would be surprised if a lot of people switched parties.
``With [Gov. Michael] Dukakis not running for reelection, we're moving into a new era of Massachusetts politics,'' Mr. Marttila says. ``If he were running, then the taxes and fiscal mess would be a continual reality. Even if people are switching, I don't think that will rearrange the political landscape.'' He points out that the entire Massachusetts Congressional delegation remains popular.
The new climate is also causing the parties to sound more like each other, with Democrats talking fiscal responsibility, and Republicans urging more money for education and the environment.
``You have to do more than just criticize Democrats for mismanagement,'' says Rep. Steven Pierce of Westfield, the House Republican floor leader. ``You have to put forth the ideas and visions you'd like to see; job creation, education, and child care. We recognize [those issues] as responsible in terms of governing the state as well as in having a campaign that can be victorious.''