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Rep. James M Shannon's decision last week to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen Paul E. Tsongas (D-Mass.) added another strong contender to a race already crowded with tough candidates.
Political observers note that the entrance of the Lawrence Democrat will make life a little harder for front-runners Lt. Gov. John F. Kerry and U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Malden) in the race for the Democratic nomination.
Shannon's announcement last Thursday was quickly followed by an endorsement from Cambridge Congressman and Speaker of the House Thomas P O'Neill Jr. (D-Cambridge). Since his election to the House in 1978. Shannon has been widely regarded a protege of O'Neill.
O'Neill's support will give a substantial boost to Shannon's campaign David M. Irons, director of external affairs for the Kennedy School of Government, notes that the Speaker's endorsement will probably mean major backing from labor political action committees.
One potential problem for Shannon, however, is his age. At 31, some see him as too young and inexperienced to be running for the Senate
But Shannon has overcome similar criticisms before. He captured his current Congressional seat at age 26 just one year beyond the Constitutional minimum for representatives
O'Neill's golden touch has also helped Shannon gain a seat on the prestigious House Ways and Means Committee, an assignment supporters say he has handled like a congressional veteran
Like Tsongas, Shannon has used his office to take liberal stands on national issues, and the voting record he has set should be an advantages in lining up support from predominantly liberal Massachusetts Democrats.
"Jim Shannon is Mr. Liberal's liberal," said Boston pollster and political consultant Tom Kiley
"Markey is perceived as a liberal, yet on defense and abortion he forfeits his natural claim to that position," said Irons.
In a press conference last week. Markey moved to counter his image as an inconsistent liberal. Calling himself a "maverick" and noting that he had changed his votes to support court-ordered busing and federal funding for abortions. Merkey objected to those who cail him a "conservative"
Observers say that Kerry, who is most prominently known for his work on the acid rain issue, has the advantage of statewide recognition. A former Vietnam war hero turned anti was activist. Kerry has never lost a Democratic primary and is known as a skilled debater and campaigner
Kerry's statements last week charging that the Reagan Administration had sacrificed the welfare of the nation's "neediest citizens" for a "bloated" defense budget revealed his penchant for speaking out on national issues.
National issues may well become the focus of the campaign for the nomination
"Paul Tsongas will leave a legacy of preoccupation with national rather than local issues," Kiley said "And in a Presidential election year that tendency will be encouraged," he added.
In that area, Markey can call on the Massachusetts nuclear freeze organization to work for him across the state
Markey sponsored the freeze bill passed by the House last year. Three prominent freeze activists, including Dr Helen Caldicott of Physicians for Social Responsibility, stood behind him when he announced his candidacy for Tsongas' seat
William H. Hebert, former executive director of the Massachusetts Teachers' Association, also entered the race last Sunday.
Hebert has never run for political office and his position in the campaign is unclear. But he could hold the allegiance of the substantial number of delegates to the June Democratic State Convention who belong to the Teachers' Association. Those delegates may comprise as much as 10 percent of the delegate body.
Candidates must win 15 percent of the delegate votes to advance to the September primary.
Other announced contenders include Secretary of State Michael J. Connolly and former Massachusetts House Speaker David M Bartley
Without a personal political organization or an outspoken stand on national issues. Connolly appears to have only a slim chance, although he is the only candidate who can claim a Boston base of support.
Bartley served in the administration of former Gov Edward J King and is the only avowed conservative in the running. He stands to benefit from the help of King Democrats left in the state political organization and the split in the electorate that is likely among the more liberal candidates.
But a vigorous public campaign will not begin until after the June Democratic State Convention
Until then, all contestants will be scrambling to gain enough delegate support to earn a spot on the primary ballot.
Approximately 3000 of the 4000 delegates to the convention will be chosen at ward and town caucuses this Saturday, Feb 11. The rest of the delegation will be made of Democratic officials and officeholders.
Rep Brian J Donnelly (D-Boston), in his announcement last week that he was not a candidate for the Senate spot, at lacked the convention system, charging that a "political machine" controlled the choice of a nominee
Observers disagree about the influence Gov. Michael S Dukakis will hold over the convention. Some say that his popularity within the statewide. Democratic organization assures his control. Others note that the burden of awaying delegates falls to the candidates themselves.
The slew of liberals in the race-would make it difficult for Dukakis to use his influence anyhow. Kerry and Shannon in particular are Dukakis allies, and the governor cannot endorse one without earning the emnity of the others.
The liberal Dukakis would probably be happy sending any of the more progressive candidates to Washington
Tsongas and Dukakis have said that they will not endorse a candidate before the primary. But Tsongas included in his retirement speech a plea that Massachusetts voters "take seriously the tradition of sending progressive members to U.S. Senate."
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