MASSACHUSETTS Republicans are once again claiming they can beat five-term incumbent Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) - but this time they mean it.
``He's totally out of step with the country and this state,'' says Republican political strategist Charley Manning. ``He's been in for 32 years. The ideas he's brought to Washington with him have been proven not to work. He's grown away from the people he's representing. We can win.''
One indication that public support is shifting is a poll published last week by the Boston Globe and WBZ-TV that showed that 52 percent of those surveyed thought the state was ready for a change in the November election; only 38 percent said Senator Kennedy deserves reelection. (The poll had a margin of error of 5 percent.)
``Polls go up and down,'' says Kennedy campaign manager Michael Kennedy. ``We don't pay attention. The senator has always run on his record and achievement. He's been taking this race seriously for some period of time.'' Two weeks ago, he adds, ``the senator was able to get 200-300 C-130s [transport planes] transferred to South Weymouth Naval Air Station. That will mean several hundred jobs.''
In his last reelection bid in 1988, Kennedy outpolled his Republican challenger, Joseph Malone, by a 31 percent margin, and outspent him by $2.1 million. Mr. Malone, now Massachusetts state treasurer, described himself at the time as ``a sacrificial lamb.'' For this election cycle, Kennedy has raised $4.6 million, more than any other congressional candidate in the United States, according to the Federal Election Commission.
But in this year's race, both sides have deep pockets. The two Republicans on the ballot are successful venture capitalists prepared to commit personal funds to their own campaigns. In the first 15 months of the campaign, challenger W. Mitt Romney raised $734,220, including $20,679 of his won money; John Lakian, $670,018, including $559,426 of his own money. Spokeswoman Ann Murphy says the Romney campaign is prepared to spend $8 million on this race.
The GOP party convention on May 14 had a very different tone on social issues than the one in 1990 - and Republican state officials say this also could be the key to a November upset. In 1990, anti-abortion activists booed then-candidate William Weld, who went on to win the governor's race even without his party's endorsement. Deep divides over social issues were little in evidence at this year's convention in Springfield. In fact, many anti-abortion activists sided with Mr. Romney, despite his pro-choice stance and Mr. Lakian's opposition to abortion.
``We are a pragmatic party,'' says Bill Vernon, executive director of the Massachusetts Republican Party. ``We won three state-wide offices in 1990 and we want to get more of them. I think abortion in most people's mind isn't the most important issue. If it becomes the most important, people realize it will do damage to the Republican Party.''
The election in 1990 of a Republican governor, as well as Lt. Gov. Paul Cellucci and state Treasurer Malone, ended years of Democratic dominance of state politics. Hence, there was another element present at the '94 GOP convention that had been little in evidence at previous conventions: state employees.
Tom Mason, a Republican state committeeman from Lexington, estimated that up to 600 state employees attended this year's convention. In 1990, he said, only two or three state employees were in his 80-member delegation. This year, 10 were state employees, and 10 more were their relatives. All voted for Romney, who enjoyed behind-the-scenes backing from top Republican officials and went on to win the support of 68 percent of the delegates.
Mr. Lakian, who just made the 15 percent threshold to get on the ballot, is being urged quietly by Republican officials to withdraw. Campaign spokesman John Alvis insists Lakian will continue. ``He's staying in the race, no question. He has a burning desire to change how our government works, and he's willing to put some of his financial resources on the line.''
This month, Kennedy quietly shut down his Fund for a Democratic Majority, a political action committee that has raised more than $9.2 million in the last 10 years to support other Democratic candidates. Groups such as the Center for Responsive Politics have criticized such so-called leadership PAC's as ways to buy influence within the Congress or indirectly finance one's own political campaigns.
Republican officials had planned to make an issue of this leadership PAC, one state committeeman says.
Romney and Lakian will be running against one of the most capable political teams in national politics, and in what could be one of the most costly races in Senate history. But this year no one is speaking of ``sacrificial lambs.''