Lt. Gov. John F. Kerry, the lanky Vietnam veteran who led 1970s protests against the war, appears headed for victory in the final days of a bitterly personal Senate campaign against Raymond Shamie, a conservative Republican.
Despite President Reagan's swing through Boston last week and his enthusiastic endorsement of Shamie, most independent surveys since the visit show Kerry, a liberal Democrat, more than 10 points ahead.
A Boston Herald poll today gives Kerry a 17-point lead and has Walter F. Mondale ahead of Reagan by five points.
While Bay State Democrats are hopeful but hardly confident of a Mondale win here, the former vice president's huge Boston rally Friday, attracting a crowd three times the size of Reagan's the day before, revealed new momentum for Democrats.
Frank Conway, co-chairman of the Reagan campaign here, said Reagan's visit may have been worth four or five points to Shamie, but he added that "obviously Kerry is in the lead, and Ray has got a ways to go."
Shamie, a businessman who made a fortune in high-tech manufacturing, has been the victim of a well-orchestrated campaign by Kerry and other Democrats to label him a right-wing extremist.
Shamie, 63 and a political newcomer, had a brief flirtation with the John Birch Society a decade ago and has defended the Birchers during the campaign as "sincere, patriotic," albeit "off on a tangent."
Sen. Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.), who decided to retire after learning he has cancer, has called the idea of Shamie's election "obscene."
Tsongas predicted in an interview today that Kerry will win by more than 10 points, despite Reagan's coattails, because "The notion of a lap dog senator is offensive."
Shamie, whom Kerry labels a "rubber stamp" for Reagan, wholeheartedly endorses the president's tax cuts, budget cuts and military spending increases.
The Boston Globe, the state's largest newspaper, ran an editorial today saying that the Birch Society has "crypto-fascist leanings" and declaring Shamie to be part of "an updated, computerized mass-mailing systematic organization of hatreds known as 'the New Right' . . . . His grandfatherly image masks a character not in keeping with the tradition of senators from Massachusetts," it said.
Shamie refuses to speak to Globe reporters, claiming the paper is biased -- a charge The Globe denies.
While Shamie's image as the affable giant-killer who knocked off primary opponent Elliot Richardson has been scarred by attacks, Kerry has fended off charges of opportunism and unpatriotic conduct in protesting the Vietnam war.
After an intense primary against Rep. James M. Shannon, Kerry has moved to the center, backing away from tax increases he had called "inevitable."
Hard campaigning by Tsongas, Gov. Michael Dukakis, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and Boston Mayor Raymond J. Flynn has helped Kerry in the last weeks. But the 6-foot-4 Kerry has also overcome an initial air of arrogance to charm his audiences. An Ivy Leaguer with an Irish name and an impassioned speaking style, he has modeled himself after the Kennedys, bringing an audience in black Roxbury to its feet Saturday night with a lengthy quote from a Robert F. Kennedy speech on apartheid.
Shamie campaigned through Boston's Italian North End Saturday with former governor John Volpe and a rousing brass band. He appeared to make few converts.
Kenneth Lee, a dishwasher at the Calamari Cafe, said he'll vote for Reagan but not Shamie. "Shamie is for Proposition 2 1/2," Lee said, referring to the state's 1980 tax-cut initiative. "We all know what that means. A lot of cutbacks. When I was in high school, they cut music and language teachers, and shop. I wanted to play football, but they cut out the whole football team."