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Democratic free-for-all in Massachusetts for Tsongas Senate seat

One of the biggest political scrambles in Massachusetts history is taking shape among Democrats here. Within hours of the Jan. 12 surprise announcement by US Sen. Paul E. Tsongas of his decision not to seek reelection because of illness, a herd of potential successors began floating trial balloons.

Seven Democrats, most of them seasoned campaigners, have declared thus far. And at least a few others still are weighing such a move.

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Those now in the arena include: US Reps. Edward J. Markey and James M. Shannon, Lt. Gov. John D. Kerry, Secretary of State Michael Joseph Connolly, and David M. Bartley, a former speaker of the Massachusetts House. Other Democrats in the race are William H. Hebert, a former president of the Massachusetts Teachers' Association, and John Pierce Lynch, a former county register of deeds.

Industrialist Raymond Shamie, a conservative Republican who challenged Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in 1982, launched his candidacy for the Tsongas seat last fall. But he will not have the free ride he expected in that party's September primary.

Elliot L. Richardson, a one-time Massachusetts lieutenant governor and attorney general who went on to hold four US Cabinet posts and later was US ambassador to Britain, is returning to campaign for the Republican nomination.

Most of the Democratic hopefuls are expected to get the 10,000 signatures required for nomination. Several, however, may have difficulty reaching the primary, since only those who receive at least 15 percent of the vote at the party's June 9 preprimary convention can qualify.

Senator Tsongas has made it clear he does not intend to back any candidate before the Democratic nominee is chosen. But keeping neutral could also pose a problem for him and Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, who both clearly would like to see the Senate seat remain in liberal hands.

With Messrs. Connolly, Kerry, Markey, and Shannon all fitting fairly well into the liberal mold, they may split the liberal and moderate vote of the party. This could work to the advantage of a conservative or conservative-moderate such as Mr. Bartley.

Thus, regardless of who wins the June convention endorsement, the former speaker, who is now president of Holyoke Community College, could be in a strong position come September.

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Mr. Markey is counting heavily not only on his well-established liberal leanings but also on his strong leadership in the nuclear freeze movement.

Mr. Kerry, who first gained national prominence more than a decade ago as the leader of a group of veterans against the Vietnam war, is also eager to capitalize on his ties to the peace movement.

Mr. Shannon may be able to capitalize on his closeness to Senator Tsongas, his predecessor in the state's Fifth Congressional District. He already has the backing of two other Massachusetts congressmen, Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. and Rep. Joseph D. Early.

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