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Dukakis Comes To State Convention a ‘Jimmy Carter’ Figure

June 2, 1990

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) _ Two years ago, Gov. Michael S. Dukakis was the Democratic Party’s nominee for the highest office in the land. Today, he isn’t even a headline act at his own state’s party convention.

Dukakis was set to address the convention this morning in the notably unprestigious leadoff slot. But that speech was postponed and the entire convention was delayed Saturday morning by a police picket line that convention participants didn’t want to cross.

Local police are negotiating a new contract and picketed the convention when contract talks fell through.

His name doesn’t even appear on the agenda of the convention, a gathering he dominated through much of his three decades in Massachusetts politics.

His aides have shown little bitterness over his stature at this year’s convention. But the governor’s press handlers made a conscious effort to avoid drawing attention to the speech, which was billed as a brief address, or moving the governor toward center stage.

Two summers ago in Atlanta, Dukakis, a three-term governor, stood before the national convention as the Democratic presidential nominee, ahead of George Bush in the polls and riding a wave of successes in the Democratic primaries.

Today, Bush is president, basking in popularity and the glow from his continuing summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. In Massachusetts, state finances are in disarray, and Dukakis’ popularity is at rock-bottom. Democratic candidates avoid him.

″Politics is very unforgiving, especially in Massachusetts,″ said James French, a longtime Dukakis ally and one of a dwindling number of aides to stay on in the last months of the governor’s administration. Dukakis leaves office in January.

And yet, like Jimmy Carter, who disappeared from the lips of Democrats after he lost his 1980 presidential re-election bid, Dukakis hopes the years will give him back the high standing he once enjoyed in Massachusetts.

″Just as Jimmy Carter, in his many years out of office, has become America’s best ex-president, and its best-loved president, the same will hold true for Dukakis at the statewide level,″ French said.

It would be a major rehabilitation.

An opinion poll gave Dukakis an unfavorable rating of 73 percent. And as the state budget situation has grown worse in recent months, Dukakis has been able to do little to dig himself out of that hole.

The four Democrats running for governor are basing their candidacies on undoing the fiscal wrongs of the Dukakis administration. Even Dukakis’ own lieutenant governor, Evelyn Murphy, has emphasized the points on which she disagrees with her boss.

Dukakis launched his statewide career with a surprisingly strong second- place finish in balloting for attorney general in 1966.

Four years later, in a bid for lieutenant governor, Dukakis wrested the convention endorsement by tirelessly talking to each and every one of thousands of delegates in their homes and offices. His opponent in that race, state Sen. Beryl Cohen, tried to win delegates by wooing party leaders.

Dukakis lost that race. But in 1974 - a year when there was no convention held - he won the governorship. In 1978, another year without a convention, he lost a primary race to a Democratic gubernatorial challenger. But at the 1982 and 1986 conventions, it was all Dukakis.

″The conventions throughout the 1980s have been a Michael Dukakis show,″ French said.

French said Dukakis hopes and expects that time will be on his side.

″He’s been at the very top and he’s also experienced the very worst and he realizes that people’s judgments will be formulated three or four years from now,″ French said. ″He’s very optimistic as most of us are.″

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