Just how long are the political coattails of Edward M. Kennedy? Even though he lost this year's Democratic presidential nomination to Jimmy Carter, the Massachusetts senator appears to be more anxious than ever to exert intraparty influence -- at least in his home state.
In the process, a "new" Senator Kennedy may be not-so-quietly emerging. For the first time since he launched his political career in 1962 with a successful bid for the US Senate, Ted Kennedy is getting involved in primary contests between other Massachusetts Democrats.
While those close to Kennedy discount the long-term significance of the move, his announced participation in a Sept. 12 fund-raiser for state Rep. Barney Frank (D) of Boston, one of three contenders for the Democratic congressional nomination in the state's Fourth District, is definitely a step in a new direction by Kennedy.
And it is not an isolated instance. Senator Kennedy also has agreed to campaign for US Rep. James M. Shannon, a freshman congressman facing a potentially stiff challenge for the Democratic nomination in the state's Fifth District.
The Kennedy appearances in behalf of candidates Frank and Shannon will come just four days before the Massachusetts primary.
Backers of other Democratic candidates in the two congressional districts naturally are disappointed that the senator has abandoned his usual preprimary neutrality. Particularly rankled is Robert Hatem, a Lowell businessman and longtime political activist who is challenging Congressman Shannon.
Those who doubt that Senator Kennedy intends to abandon his usual nonintervention policy suggest the situations at hand are special. Both Frank and shannon were staunch workers for Kennedy in his bid for the 1980 Democratic presidential nomination.
State Representative Frank devoted considerable time to working in the senator's presidential campaign, not only in Massachusetts but in Maine, New Hampshire, and Maryland. Neither of the other contenders for the Fourth District congressional seat (being vacated by Democratic US Rep. Robert F. Drinan) were Kennedy activists.
Having agreed to support Frank, who is not an incumbent, Senator Kennedy might have found himself in an awkward position were he not to offer similar aid to congressman Shannon.
Some Bay State observers view the Kennedy decision to break with his customary neutrality as an indication he intends to become much more involved in internal party affairs here, where a lively contest for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 1982 is expected.
Lt. Gov. Thomas P. O'Neill III, who was New England coordinator for Kennedy's presidential bid, is considering a try for the governorship.
Boosters of the senator note that he owes no allegiance to incumbent Democratic Gov. Edward J. King, who endorsed President Carter in the Massachusetts presidential primary. relations between Governor King and the senator never have been close.