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Bay State GOP devises new plan to restore two-party lawmaking

Massachusetts Republicans, taking some advice from Ma Bell, are trying to ''reach out and touch someone'' - and a lot of Bay Staters may be getting a call.

The Massachusetts GOP - after decades of frustration and shrinking ranks - may be on the move.

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And if successful, the party faithful throughout the commonwealth may have something to look forward to during next November's election.

Instead of waiting until a few weeks before the spring filing deadline to scurry about for would-be (or even could-be) GOP candidates for legislative seats, the 1984 political talent hunt already is under way.

Spearheading the effort is a team of Republican activists - conservatives, moderates, and liberals - from across Massachusetts.

These county chairmen, several of whom know firsthand what campaigning for public office is all about, are bent on doing more than presenting an attractive crop of contenders for seats in the state Senate and House of Representatives. They are determined to find potential winners.

Yet, hard as they may try, it is questionable whether there will be a GOP candidate in every lawmaking district. But by starting early, the scouting force is on the right track.

The big challenge is not just finding people to run, as difficult as that might be in some instances. Such efforts in the past have accomplished little more than to produce an assortment of ''also-rans'' who never had real prospects for victory. What the Republicans really need are viable contenders who are ready and eager to take on an entrenched Democratic legislator or to compete in an open district where voter-enrollment figures tilt heavily toward the Democrats.

Since 1980, when Republican Ronald Reagan carried the commonwealth on his way to winning the presidency, Massachusetts GOP chairman Andrew S. Natsios and his Republican state committee colleagues have had little to cheer about. But now they are becoming more convinced that theirs is anything but a lost cause.

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At least some of the current wave of revived optimism stems from the Sept. 20 upset victory of their party's nominee, John F. MacGovern of Harvard, in a special election in the Second Middlesex House District.

The political territory, comprising five towns where the combined voter registration put the GOP at a 2-to-1 disadvantage, had been in Democratic hands since 1977. Mr. MacGovern's 942-vote margin over Democrat Mark Mulligan of Westford, although hardly a landslide, leaves little doubt that his voter appeal cut across party lines.

Although this was MacGovern's first try at an elective office, he came into the campaign as anything but an amateur. The Dartmouth-College-educated candidate had worked as an aide to Boston attorney Frank McNamara, the Republican who challenged US House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. in the Eighth Congressional District in 1982.

That political experience, even though in a losing cause, had to be an asset. So, too, was the encouragement and help provided by the Republican State Committee, especially Chairman Natsios, who also is a GOP state representative from Holliston and one of the minority party's most articulate, effective lawmakers.

Rather than asking the voters of his district to support a Republican because ''it is time for a change'' - the all-too-familiar, simplistic plea of many a losing candidate - MacGovern latched onto a single key issue: the need for legislative rules reform.

With that, he struck a responsive political note - and to a much greater degree than he would have had he gone forth with a lot of promises, none of which a freshman legislator in the minority party stands much chance of keeping.

Rules reform, on the other hand, is something in which every member of the Senate and House has a role. It is much less of a single-party issue than the Democratic leadership would have had it appear a few weeks ago.

Despite the renewed optimism that finally they are approaching the threshold of turning things around, Mr. Natsios and his fellow Republican leaders can hardly lose sight of the fact that statewide voter-enrollment figures are not to their advantage. And lest they forget, it should be noted that of the 2.9 million citizens now registered only 409,000 carry a GOP label. Another 1.2 million, however, are ''independents.''

As successful as the Republican recruitment team may prove to be, there is nothing to suggest it will produce a contender for all 160 House and 40 Senate seats. The Democrats, even with their substantial voter-enrollment lead, have not been able to accomplish that feat.

If Republicans produce candidates for two-thirds of the legislative chairs in 1984 they will have done well, much better than they've done for some time. Then they could concentrate on providing assistance, technical and financial, to boost the campaigns of candidates whose prospects for victory seem brightest in an issue-oriented, rather than party-label-dominated, campaign.

With the Massachusetts governorship and all other statewide elective offices out of political reach until 1986 (excepting the US Senate seat of Democrat Paul E. Tsongas), Republicans can vigorously zero in on the legislature where, even with the MacGovern addition, they hold but 30 House seats and seven Senate chairs.

The Second Middlesex balloting was the sixth special legislative election this year - and the first caputured by a Republican. But in at least three of the others the GOP lost by a narrow margin.

A bit of political momentum to spark next year's legislative election might be provided were a Republican candidate to win an expected special House election in the overwhelmingly Democratic 12th Bristol District. Democrat David R. Nelson of New Bedford, the seat's former occupant, resigned Oct. 21 upon his appointment by Gov. Michael S. Dukakis as Bristol County sheriff.

Perhaps even more of a lift could come by riding the political coattails of Republican President Ronald Reagan, who will almost certainly be the party's standard-bearer on next year's ballot.

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