Few elected officials anywhere are more firmly entrenched than Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in Massachusetts.
Almost everyone in the Bay State political scene, even many of those supporting Republican challenger Raymond Shamie, considers the veteran Democrat a shoo-in for his next six-year term.
However, Mr. Kennedy may have a lot more riding on the campaign's outcome than retaining the lawmaking seat he's held for two decades.
The senator, targeted for political extermination by conservative activists across the United States, already may be looking two years down the road and to another bid for the presidency. And those stakes may make him all the more determined not just to win the election in November, but to win big.
So Kennedy is taking nothing for granted. He is expected to launch a heavy media campaign in mid-September, coupled with a lot of the personal politicking that has worked so successfully for him in the past. This phase of the reelection effort will move into high gear Sept. 11, the Saturday before the state primary. (The senator is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination.)
Mr. Shamie also is gearing up for what could be a heavy radio and TV ad drive. For months he has been moving about the state in attempts to drum up support, especially among conservatives and others unhappy with Kennedy's performance.
Shamie's candidacy, which has been one of considerable frustration thus far, began nearly a year ago with full-page advertisements in newspapers. The ads decried Kennedy's voting record and contrasted it with Shamie's conservative stance.
The GOP candidate, who has plowed some $700,000 of his own money into his political pursuits, has raised about $400,000 in contributions, a significant portion of it from out-of-state donors. This is still far short of the $2 million that the soft-spoken industrialist expects to raise.
While conceding that prospects for toppling Kennedy are dim, those in the Shamie camp apparently refuse to accept their cause as lost. They are determined to give the senator the scare of his political career and, in the process, appreciably weaken his prospects for the Democratic presidential nomination two years hence.
Although the GOP candidate's fund raising may fall far short of his goal, the amount raised by groups that oppose Kennedy is nearly as great as Shamie's war chest.
The National Conservative Political Action Committee has raised some $500,000 . Citizens Organization to Replace Kennedy (CORK), another out-of-state opposition group, similarly is involved on the campaign's fringe. CORK is distributing to about 100,000 Bay State households a 36-page comic book ridiculing the veteran senator.
Such efforts, however, are not pro-Shamie but rather anti-Kennedy, and Shamie has said that such tactics by right-wing forces detract from his campaign.
What would help his campaign, Shamie has said, is a face-to-face debate with Kennedy - a forum from which he could clarify how his stand on issues differs from those of the liberal incumbent. But from Kennedy's standpoint, a one-on-one appearance with his GOP challenger would accomplish little, if anything, beyond helping Shamie gain voter attention.
While the senator has made it clear there will be a debate, it will not come until after the Sept. 14 primary and it might include Libertarian Party candidate Howard S. Katz and possibly one or two write-in aspirants.
Still hoping to press Kennedy into a program confined to just the two of them , Shamie in recent weeks has taken to the air with his challenge. Planes trailing banners that read, ''$10,000 reward - Get Ted Kennedy to debate Ray Shamie'' have flown over the 36 states holding presidential primaries in 1984.
However, it would be difficult for Kennedy to shy away from debate without tarnishing his image among Democratic voters. In the 1980 presidential primary campaign, Kennedy made a fuss when President Jimmy Carter ignored pleas for a televised face-to-face exchange.
But regardless of the outcome of any debate, Kennedy will be a hard man to beat in November. Since first winning office in 1962 with 54.2 percent of the vote, Kennedy only once has fallen below the 60 percent mark. That was in November 1970, less than 16 months after his car accident on Chappaquiddick Island in which a woman passenger was killed.