Dukakis Team Tracks Down the Uncommitted
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Away from the balloons and the lights of politics, a lawyer and a onetime bricklayer run a computer-driven operation pulling in the delegates Michael Dukakis needs to win the Democratic presidential nomination.
Until recently, they have worked in obscurity, but as Dukakis has gotten closer to his goal they’ve been getting more recognition.
″My profile has gotten raised so much in the last week it’s frightening,″ said Tad Devine, the 32-year-old lawyer who oversees delegate selection for the Dukakis campaign.
While the candidate was on Capitol Hill meeting with congressional leaders during a recent trip to Washington, Devine was across town having quiet discussions with labor union officials.
″Just kind of floating around″ is how he describes his activities that day. The previous day, he said, he, too, had been up at the Capitol ″and had floated around a little.″
Susan Brophy, the deputy director of delegate selection, was back at campaign headquarters in Boston, minding the store.
More than 85 percent of the 1,645 delegates Dukakis has gained so far have been won in primaries and caucuses. But the rest, including party leaders, politicians, the uncommitted and delegates originally supporting other candidates, have been won one at a time.
Winning them has risen in importance as Dukakis strives to nail down the total needed for nomination - 2,081 - by the end of the primaries on June 7.
Devine and Ms. Brophy run a 15-member staff whose mission is to soft-sell delegates on the idea of voting for the Massachusetts governor at the Democratic National Convention, although ″sell″ is a work neither of them likes to use.
″I hate to think of a person running for president of the United States as a product,″ Devine says.
The job is about 70 percent science and 30 percent art, Devine says.
Computers keep track of how many times a delegate has been contacted and by whom, along with political and biographical information.
″It goes through various stages,″ Ms. Brophy says. ″At the initial stage it’s just sort of introductory. Then it goes more to the persuasion stage and then to the conversion stage.″
The marching orders: Be persistent, be helpful but don’t be pushy.
″The train-leaving-the-station and other similar approaches are not effective,″ Devine says. ″It causes resentment.″
On occasion, the staff lines up calls for Dukakis himself to make to close the deal.
″He’s very good on the phone,″ Ms. Brophy says. ″He’s very persuasive on the phone.″
The operation runs from around 9 a.m. to nearly midnight, and someone is working every day, she says. The pace will pick up in June, when many states that started their processes months ago finally get around to picking their delegates.
Devine gained experience in delegate tracking for Walter Mondale in 1984 and before that for Jimmy Carter. Dukakis was one of three presidential candidates who wanted to hire him for 1988, Devine says. He won’t name the other two.
He and Dukakis met one night as the candidate was being driven around New Hampshire, attending house parties for his long-shot campaign.
The impression was strong enough that Devine, whose wife was pregnant at the time, quit his job at the Washington law firm of Winston and Strawn, took a nearly 50 percent pay cut and moved to Boston to work for Dukakis.
Ms. Brophy had known Dukakis for 14 years, having worked on his first gubernatorial campaign and later having been his student at the John F. Kennedy School of Public Affairs at Harvard.
In the meantime, she has been policy director for the Democratic National Committee, has run a program to help women get jobs in the construction industry and has been a communications director for the bricklayers union.
She also learned how to lay bricks and says she can swing a hammer with skill.
The caution of a lawyer and the methodical approach of a bricklayer have met with success.
For example, Mary Sue Gutierrez, a Democratic national committeewoman from New Mexico, says she gets about two calls a week from the Dukakis campaign, and while she’s still uncommitted, she’s leaning toward the Massachusetts governor.
But for some phone-weary delegates the sale may be tough.
Keron Kerr of Maine has an answering machine on her telephone that says, ″Hello, this is Keron Kerr. My delegate status is still uncommitted.″