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Dukakis offers advice to presidential hopefuls

By Lisa Vorderbrueggen
Tuesday, February 26th, 2008 at 2:30 pm in 2008 presidential election, Contra Costa politics.

It’s the precinct, stupid.

So says Michael Dukakis, son of Greek immigrants, former governor of Massachusetts and the 1988 Democratic Party presidential nominee, who lectured at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga on Tuesday. (He for about half-hour prior to taking questions from a student panel and the audience.)

Dukakis urged his party’s nominee, whether it is Sen. Barack Obama or Sen. Hillary Clinton, to immediately form a precinct-based campaign organization — and name a precinct captain for every one of the nation’s 200,000 voting precincts — and abandon the heavy reliance on expensive advertising and unpredictable media coverage.

“Obama just started to do this in the last month but if he had done it earlier, he would have won the nomination by now,” Dukakis said.

The successful nominee should immediately recruit precinct captains who bring on volunteers who personally talk to every single voter in the nation, including independents and Republicans, Dukakis added.

“We need to stop buying into this red state-blue state nonsense,” he said. “If (the Democratic Party) concedes half the population to the other side, they will lose, folks.”

Lest this all sound as though Dukakis considers himself the savior of the Democratic Party, don’t get the wrong impression. The audience of several hundred people — a mix of students and members of the community — pressed him for his opinions on the presidential race.

He freely admitted in his opening comments that had he been an expert on presidential politics, he would be “standing here in a different capacity.”

Dukakis, whose wife, Kitty, accompanied him to the college, reflected on the 1988 campaign where he was the subject of a famous attack ad about a criminal who got out on furlough in Massachusetts while Dukakis was governor.

“It was a serious mistake on my part, and it was my decision, not to respond to the attack,” Dukakis said.

Dukakis has not endorsed either candidate. But Kitty — who experienced her share of mean-spirited campaign commentary during her husband’s campaign — is a major Obama fan and she took the microphone briefly to campaign for her candidate.

She indirectly slammed Clinton’s campaign in the incident this week that involved one of her staffer’s release of a photo of Obama in ceremonial Somali garb.

“Barack Obama would never have had someone working for his campaign that would have done something like,” Kitty said. She called the photo and other negative emails floating around the Internet “scurrilous and unpatriotic … Americans deserve better.”

Here are some of Michael Dukakis’ other views expressed during the lecture:

– Mitt Romney, also a Massachusetts governor who recently dropped out of the Republican presidential race, “is a fraud and he was a lousy governor.”

– Eliminate the Electoral College, a system by which states appoint individuals to officially select the President of the United States regardless of the winner of the popular vote. “It”s a system that is profoundly undemocratic.”

– Establish a rotating, regional primary system for presidential candidates. It would eliminate the hyper-costly Super Tuesday phenomenon (24 primaries or caucuses were held on Feb. 5) and force the candidates to visit all parts of the country during the election.

– A vote for Ralph Nader, who entered the presidential race this week as an independent, is a “vote for (presumed GOP nominee) Sen. John McCain.”

– California must fund high-speed rail and help the nation expand its railroad operations in a manner similar to what European and Asian residents have had for years.

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  • RR

    Mike Dukakis (he dislikes being called Mike)is extremely well-informed about his own views. He could have appointed 200,000 precinct captains and still have lost the race to Bush Sr. His last name isn’t Daley. The reference to the racially tinged ad featuring convict Wille Horton is disingenuous. Few voters actually saw the ad; its main effect was to portray Dukakis as an unthinking idealist and to reinforce an image of him as bloodless, out of touch with common fears and emotions. His notoriously unemotional response to a hypothetical question involving his reaction to a criminal assault on his wife Kitty crystallized the image with results fatal to his campaign. As for getting rid of the Electoral College, Mike might as well suggest scrapping the Constitution, as the role of states would disappear as a consequence.