THE RESULTS of Tuesday's primaries, in an uncommon development, probably helped as many presidential candidates as they hurt. Sen. Baker has withdrawn. Congressman Anderson has -- at least for now -- arrived. Mr. Carter and Sen. Kennedy are still there. The traditional winnowing-out process has become, at least temporarily, this year's winnowing-in.
Sen. Kennedy, after four consecutive losses to President Carter in four states, at least won the Democratic primary in his home state unambiguously. Whether the Massachusetts victory for Mr. Kennedy was the product of tribal and territorial loyalties or signified a shift in voters' concerns and preferences on the issues no one knows. But certainly Mr. Carter's huge victory in Vermont over Sen. Kennedy would seem to support the home-court interpretation. The answer should not be too long coming, because next week brings primaries for the Democrats in Alabama, Georgia and Florida where President Carter appears to have the field virtually to himself. Sen. Kennedy will now concentrate his limited resources on Illinois, March 18, and New York, March 25, where his prospects may be brighter than in Dixie, but not much. The home-state folks were good to Sen. Kennedy, but their strong support could not erase three defeats in northern New England.
Former ambassador George Bush rallied in Massachusetts after his trouncing, a week earlier, in New Hampshire. Mr. Bush, on the strength of some energetic personal campaigning, probably saved himself from serious political problems by his close victory in Massachusetts. He can now head into the southern primaries as a winner and a formidable alternative to the favorite, Ronald Reagan. With his victory in Vermont and a photo-finish third in Massachusetts, Mr. Reagan just missed, by a few thousand votes, leaving the rest of the Republican field far behind. The South has, in the past, been Reagan territory (where by his own definition "good" Democrats can cross over to vote for him, unlike New England's "liberal" crossovers).
One problem confronting the Reagan campaign, in particular, is the prosepct of its running up against the statutory limits on campaign spending before its opponents do. His money problems mean that Mr. Reagan, more than Mr. Bush or Mr. Anderson or even possibly former president Ford, literally cannot afford to have the nomination fight continue into late May and June.
So the Democratic and Republician front-runners are still in place, though looking a hair less self-confident. The big story -- the most surprising and interesting one to emerge from Tuesday's voting -- was undoubtedly the ascent of Rep. John Anderson. Mr. Anderson fought Mr. Bush, in Massachusetts, and Mr. Reagan in Vermont, to near dead-heats in the balloting. Undoubtedly his frank and unequivocal positions on controversial issues, like the gasoline tax and the grain-sale embargo, brought both volunteers and voters to his cause. John Anderson will now be able to raise money. He will continue to mobilize indepdendent voters and voters on the much put-upon Republican left. His main achievement so far has been that -- in a year when so many candidates are being supported grudgingly because they are not someone else -- Mr. Anderson has caused people to vote for him. On Tuesday, he was definitely winnowed in. Sen. Kennedy escaped being definitively winnowed out.