Despite operating under a pall of poor poll results, President Carter's reelection forces today claimed an early victory in attracting some potent political guns on the turf of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass).
However, leaders of the burgeoing drive by Democratic Party activists to promote a Kennedy Presidential candidacy in Massachusetts contend that Carter's support here is only as strong as Kennedy's intention not to run.
"I'm supportive of the president, but I do it because I've been encouraged to do it by Teddy," said Gerard Doherty, a longtime Kennedy insider who ran Carter's New York campaign in 1976.
"It's a very strong Kennedy state and there are a lot of people unhappy with the president here," said Doherty, who attended a $500-a-plate Carter fund-raiser here today. "But Teddy is not a candidate and he feels it's important for us to have a Democratic president."
"The president is running unopposed," said Carter campaign manager Evan Dobelle, who, with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Patricia Roberts Harris, represented the administration at the affair.
"In the end result, we'll do very well in Massachusetts," Dobelle predicted.
Carter drew little support from the state's Democratic leadership in 1976, and he came in fourth in the presidential primary, behind Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.), Rep. Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz.) and former Alabama governor George C. Wallace.
Now, Dobelle said, "the president has the support of the state party's officials - the movers and shakers in Massachusetts."
Among those paid for steak, eggs and political chatter - netting the Carter campaign about $75,000, according to Dobelle - were Gov. Edward J. King, House Speaker Thomas Mcgee and Attorney General Francis Belotti.
"You would not see this much support and money committed so far if they thought Kennedy was running," said Nick Rizzo, organizer of the event and a major fund-raiser for Sen. Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.) last year.
King and Mcgee, who maintain close labor ties have endorsed Carter's 1980 effort. However, sources close to Beliotti, one of state's top vote-getters, say he plans to remain neutral.
"If Kennedy became a candidate, nine out of 10 people in this room would go with him," said Doherty, whose affiliation with the Kennedy family dates back to john F. Kennedy's first congressional campaign.
State Sen. Sharon Pollard, a leader of the Massachusetts Committee for a Democratic Alternative in 1980, said the state's top Democratic contributors and policticians attended the event "only out of courtesy."
"They would almost have to be there as part of their duties of the job," she said. "After all, the man is president of the United States and he is a democrat.
"But it doesn't really have much significance politically," she said. "A public endorsement by a politician won't mean a damn thing to an elderly person who has to pay 90 cents a gallon for home heating fuel next winter."
Dobelle acknowledged that Carter has "aperception problem . . . People are still getting to know him and it's going to be a long, hard fight.
"This is a marathon and we have a long-distance runner. You're going to have a lot of speed merchants and high hurdlers, but we can take the race. We'll have the organization and money to do well in Massachusetts."