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New England races may test Reagan coattails

New England is being hit with a new blizzard - this time of political candidacies.

From the wind-swept slopes of the region's north country to the surf-lapped beaches of Cape Cod, fiercely contested congressional and gubernatorial campaigns are fast taking shape.

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On the line in next fall's ballot are all six New England governorships, five of the 12 US Senate seats from the six-state region, and all 24 of the seats in the US House.

While incumbents generally are expected to fare well, a few face stiff challenges from within their party. The fate of several US senators and representatives could hinge not only on their popularity but that of President Reagan and his administration's policies.

A continuing conservative tide, for example, would hardly boost the prospects of Maine's Democratic Sen. George J. Mitchell in besting his Republican opposition.

At the same time a cooling, if not souring, of voter sentiment toward Reaganomics could hurt some New England GOP members of Congress like Rhode Island first-term US Rep. Claudine Schneider and Connecticut freshman US Rep. Lawrence J. DeNardis, both of whose districts had previously been Democratic strongholds.

A lively scramble is developing in Connecticut where incumbent US Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. is being challenged for the Republican nomination by Prescott Bush Jr., a GOP conservative and older brother of Vice-President George Bush.

In another 'intramural' contest in Connecticut, Rep. Toby Moffett and John T. Downey, an attorney and former CIA agent, will square off for the Democratic senatorial nomination.

A Bush victory over Senator Weicker for the GOP endorsement could pave the way for a three-way tussle next November between the Democratic and Republican nominees and Weicker, running as an independent.

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Also commanding considerable attention, much of it from outside the region, is the re-election campaign in Massachusetts of liberal Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D), who faces a well-funded conservative challenge.

Thus far no formidable Kennedy foe for the Democratic nomination has surfaced. And prominent Massachusetts Republicans similarly are shying away from a political collision with the senator, who has held his seat for the past two decades.

The GOP opponent on the November ballot could be Raymond Shamie, a businessman and political newcomer who has attacked Mr. Kennedy through full-page newspaper advertisements. Dr. Mildred Jefferson, a prominent activist in the antiabortion movement, is another would-be Republican nominee.

In Maine, Democratic Senator Mitchell appears to have escaped a potentially tough challenge in his party's June primary with the recent decision by former Gov. Kenneth Curtis not to seek the nomination.

Senator Mitchell, who gained his seat by appointment in May 1980 when his close friend, Edmund S. Muskie, vacated the post to become US secretary of state under President Carter, is expected to face US Rep. David F. Emery in November. Mr. Emery, a five-term congressman, now seems virtually assured of the GOP senatorial nomination in the June 8 state primary.

The road to reelection looks easier for the other New England senators. Both US Sens. John H. Chafee (R) of Rhode Island and Robert T. Stafford (R) of Vermont appear all but certain to breeze through their party's September primaries with little or no opposition. Both, however, will have Democratic foes on the November ballot.

No Democratic challenger to Senator Stafford has come forward in Vermont, but Philip N. Hoff, a former three-term governor, is understood to be moving in that direction.

All but one of the six New England governors -- Vermont's third-term GOP chief executive, Richard A. Snelling -- appear to be seeking reelection. But none of them, all Democrats, has formally declared.

In Connecticut, Gov. William A. O'Neill has indicated he will make his announcement later this month. At least one fellow Democrat, Connecticut House Speaker Ernest N. Abate of Stamford, Conn., is set to challenge him for the gubernatorial nomination. Four Republicans, two of them state senators and two former state Senate minority leaders, are in the running for the GOP nomination.

Rhode Island Gov. J. Joseph Garrahy appears to have smooth sailing toward renomination for a fourth two-year term. It is unclear who his Republican challenger will be, since no candidates have come forward. Meanwhile, Massachusetts Gov. Edward J. King faces a tough campaign to win renomination. Former Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, whom he unseated in the 1978 primary, and Lt. Gov. Thomas P. O'Neill III, son of US House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. (D) of Massachusetts, are also both vying for the Democratic nomination. Five candidates are competing for GOP nomination.

The New Hampshire political spotlight will be on the race for governor where Democrat Hugh J. Gallen will seek a third two-year term with little or no opposition from within his party. His rival in November may be former GOP Gov. Meldrim Thomson Jr., whom he unseated four years ago and defeated again in 1980. Thus far, however, Mr. Thomson has not said that he intends to run. The other most likely Republican contender is state Senate president Robert Monier.

Maine's Democratic Gov. Joseph E. Brennan will be seeking a second four-year term. In the June primary he will have at least one challenger, state. Rep. Georgette Berube of Lewiston. The Republican primary is shaping up into a contest between state Sen. Richard H. Pierce of Waterville, state Rep. Sherry Huber of Falmouth, and Portland attorney Charles Cragin.

With Vermont's Governor Snelling not seeking a fourth term, US Rep. James Jeffords has indicated interest in becoming the state's top executive. His decision is promised on Feb. 15. Other Republicans interested in the GOP gubernatorial nomination are state Treasurer Emory Huber, state Transportation Secretary Thomas Evslin, and Stewart Ledbetter, the party's nominee for US Senate two years ago.

The Democratic nominee in Vermont is expected to be Lt. Gov. Madeleine M. Kunin.

If GOP Congressman Jeffords does seek the governorship, a wide-open scramble for the state's congressional seat seems certain.

Republicans, who currently hold but nine of New England's 25 House seats, are determined to hold onto what they have while scoring at least modest gains. Democrats, with 16 seats, have the same aim.

One party must lose a seat since the region will have one fewer representatives in 1983. The 1980 census has cut the Massachusetts delegation from 12 to 11 seats, leaving incumbents Margaret M. Heckler (R) and Barney Frank (D) to fight for a single seat.

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