Flliot L. Richardson '41's decision last week to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Paul E. Tsongas may offer Massachusetts something it rarely sees, the possibility of a strong Republican bid for the seat.
If the former U.S. Attorney General wins the party nomination, he will bring his national reputation and recognized moderate appeal to the service of the party. And even if he loses, his presence in the primaries will turn the nomination process into a real race--giving the other serious Republican candidate, businessman Ray Shamie of Walpole, some free publicity.
"Richardson's entry has definitely redirected interest towards the Republicans," observes Gene Hartigan, executive director of the Republican State Committee.
"My phone is ringing off the hook with journalists' calls about him," he adds.
Richardson's announcement ended weeks of speculation that he would join the slew of politicians hoping to replace Tsongas.
Soon after Tsongas announced his retirement because of health reasons, Richardson began discussing the possibility of a run with state and national Republican bigwigs.
Richardson faces primary challenges from Dr. Mildred Jefferson of Boston, an anti-abortion activist, and Shamie, who spent nearly $1-million of his own money in an unsuccessful attempt to unseat Sen. Edward M. Kennedy '54 in 1982.
Shamie announced his intention to run long before Tsongas bowed out, and called Richardson's entrance "a little opportunistic." But state Republican officials quietly say they are happy that Richardson is running because of his national reputation that will probably allow him to mount a stronger race against the Democrats.
Shamie is likely to find his strongest support in the conservative western part of the state, while Richardson will probably have more statewide appeal, Hartigan notes.
"Shamie is more of a door-to-door candidate," Hartigan said. "Richardson is percveived as less of a grassroots organizer, but he loves to campaign."
Polls released this month by MRK Research, a Boston political consulting firm, showed Richardson leading Shamie 31 percent to 16 percent among registered Republicans and Independents, although the candidates were dead even among Republicans alone.
Hartigan and other Republican officials optimistically predict that, if Richardson wins the party nomination, he will pull more moderates to the Republican side than party candidates have been able to in the recent past.
Even if Richardson can attract support from Independents, Massachusetts is still one of the most Democratic states in the country, with registered Democrats outnumbering their Republican counter-parts 45 percent to 14 percent.
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Richardson waited until he was assured support from the Republican National Committee before announcing. An aide adds that Richardson also discussed his candidacy with the Senatorial Campaign Committee and the White House before entering the race.
Richardson has had publicized disputes with the Reagan administration over the Law of the Sea Treaty, which Reagan opposed, and over intervention in Central America, which Richardson opposes.
But the disagreements seem to have fallen by the wayside this election year. The GOP leadership is attempting to hold the Senate majority it won in 1980, and it is expected to back Richardson in its efforts to find strong Republican Senate candidates.
The former state Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor is best known for his decision to resign from his office as U.S. Attorney General under former President Richard M. Nixon rather than comply with Nixon's order to fire Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox '34.
Since then he has maintained an active role in the government, serving as ambassador to England under President Gerald R. Ford, and as chief U.S. negotiator at the International Law of the Sea conference for President Jimmy Carter.