Presidential candidate Edward M. Kennedy, hoping that his tough and specific reaffirmation of candidacy will energize liberal contributors and volunteers, said yesterday he would stay in the race even if he loses to President Carter in his home region.
In essence, Kennedy and his campaign aides said that even if Kennedy's speech Monday at Georgetown University doesn't bring in votes in Maine and New Hampshire, they think it will bring in enough money to keep the candidate in the race through later primaries in major industrial states.
The Kennedy theory is that the underlying problems that gave Carter rock-bottom approval ratings six months ago will reemerge eventually, and the president's current popularity will fade. The Kennedy people want their man around as an alternative if that happens.
Accordingly, the Massachusetts senator, who said just a week ago that he had to win the Maine town caucuses Feb. 10 and the New Hampshire primary Feb. 26, said yesterday that "we're in this race and we'll continue" regardless of the New England results.
"I'm hopeful that those that are concerned about the continued fact that the hostages are not returning . . . about the new Carter doctrine with regard to the Persian Gulf and all of its potential implications . . . about continuing rates of inflation . . . will give us help and support."
Meanwhile, Kennedy's contention that Carter's anti-inflation program is a "failure" drew a testy response from Vice President Mondale, who was campaigning in Carter's place in New Hampshire.
"I think if I were Senator Kennedy I wouldn't bring up the inflation issue to begin with," Mondale said. "The only way you're going to control inflation is to solve the energy crisis . . . That is the key source of inflation today. We have taken all the other steps that could be taken."
After Carter made a similar assertion in a television interview two weeks ago, an administration economist said that, after taking out all components relating to energy, the index of inflation in personal consumption goods stands at 8 percent. The overall inflation rate, which is computed on a slightly different basis, is 13.3 percent when oil prices are included.
Kennedy has scheduled a series of fund-raisers over the next few weeks to try to get his basic liberal constituency to support his campaign.
And yesterday Kennedy unveiled endorsements from two old liberal friends, Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, a leader of organized Jewry, and from the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, the black civil rights leader.
This morning Kennedy is to depart for his longest campaign trip so far -- a 17-day tour that will focus mainly on New England but will include campaign and fund-raising side trips to Florida and Puerto Rico
Kennedy canceled a campaign trip last weekend to prepare for Monday's speech, a restatement of his reasons for running in which he critized Carter for "helter-skelter militarism" overseas and called for wage-price controls and gasoline rationing to deal with energy and economic problems.