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Dukakis a conundrum for Kerry

On the hustings, US Senator John F. Kerry has tried to put some distance between himself and Michael S. Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, who was governor of Massachusetts when Kerry was lieutenant governor.

He is no Dukakis, Kerry has said, trying to avoid being tarred with the Massachusetts liberal label Republicans so firmly slapped on the former governor 16 years ago. Kerry has showcased his military service, his record as a prosecutor, and his centrist views.

But come late July, the gap between Kerry and Dukakis is going to narrow: The Democratic National Convention to nominate Kerry will be held less than a mile from the State House, where Dukakis presided for 12 years.

And the former governor presents convention organizers with a conundrum: What will this year's nominee do with his 1988 counterpart?

The man mostly responsible for that decision made his political career under Dukakis: Jack Corrigan, now Kerry's convention liaison, was a key aide during Dukakis's second administration. He went on to become deputy campaign manager in Dukakis's 1988 presidential campaign and helped manage the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. Members of the Dukakis circle, several of them now high-level advisers to Kerry, have in the past been miffed that their former candidate has not been given his due. Now they face the decision of what exactly should be done for a man who has been neglected by the national political establishment since he was roundly defeated by George H.W. Bush in 1988.

Some strategists predict that, since Kerry is trying to shuck the Massachusetts liberal label, Dukakis will be all but invisible during the televised portions of the convention, just as other unsuccessful nominees have been. But some local Democrats hope for more for the former governor.

Corrigan did not return calls for this story, but other Democrats say the decision has not yet been made.

Dukakis, 70, now a professor of politics at Northeastern University, said he has not been told of the Kerry camp's plans for him yet, but is happy either way.

''This is John Kerry's convention, and that's what it ought to be," he said. ''John's the candidate, not the rest of us, and it's very important that he come out of this in great form, and it's very important that he do well. It's important that this be a Kerry convention -- not a Dukakis or a [former President Bill] Clinton, or a [US Senator]Ted Kennedy convention."

Besides, Dukakis said, Republicans can't use him to hurt Kerry anyway.

''If they think they're going to re-run the '88 campaign, they're nuts," Dukakis said. ''It isn't working. It's been a long time. This is a new world."

Still, local Republicans are watching the situation with some enjoyment.

''They're closing down the Green Line in a vain attempt to keep Mike Dukakis away from the FleetCenter," joked GOP consultant Rob Gray, referring to the former governor's enthusiasm for public transportation. ''Dukakis is Typhoid Mary for the Democrats. He and his 1988 campaign symbolize everything that puts Massachusetts out of the national mainstream. And there's no way Kerry wants to be tied to that and labeled in the same way."

The convention comes as Dukakis is enjoying something of a comeback in Massachusetts. A state party tribute to him last fall drew 1,700 guests. And he will be honored outside the FleetCenter during convention week: Local and national Democrats are organizing a party to fete him, gathering together the political operatives who toiled for him in 1988, some of whom now occupy major roles in the Kerry campaign.

''He has friends all over the country," said Philip W. Johnston, health and human services secretary under Dukakis, and now chair of the Massachusetts Democratic Party. ''I'm sure they're going to want to pay their respects to him."

Dukakis will be busy during convention week anyway, he said, chairing a convention panel on public service at Northeastern and leading a group of 40 convention interns through studies centered on the week's events.

Besides, he and other Democrats said, former nominees rarely play prominent roles at conventions anyway. Former senator and 1972 Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern has not been recognized at conventions, though he has attended faithfully for years: ''My wife, Eleanor, and I have sat through these events unnoticed, unrecognized, and, I suspect, unwanted," he wrote in a Playboy magazine article last year.

Johnston laments the fact that nominees have been relegated to back seats in the past.

''As somebody who's been involved in Democratic Party politics for a long time, I have been made very unhappy by the treatment of former nominees in general, including [Jimmy] Carter and [Walter] Mondale and McGovern," Johnston said. He said he hoped Dukakis would be recognized ''in one form or another."

Kerry and Dukakis have not spoken recently, Dukakis said, though he still talks to his former strategists, who are now plotting a path to what they hope is a Kerry victory. Dukakis has said that he believes those strategists will not repeat the mistakes of his own campaign. Attempts to compare the men, or to dredge up their joint record in Massachusetts, are just ''warmed over cheese," Dukakis said.

Kerry will not brook the comparison either.

''No one should try to scare up some Michael Dukakis issue," said a statement Kerry issued to the Globe in late 2002. ''I am not Michael Dukakis, and Michael Dukakis is not me, and the first person who would tell you that is Michael Dukakis."

By contrast, Kerry has embraced another famed Massachusetts liberal on the trail, US Senator Edward M. Kennedy. And Kennedy will have a prominent role at the convention, delivering a speech to delegates, and probably the nation, on Tuesday night of convention week.

The role his campaign gives to Dukakis at the convention will reflect on Kerry's character, some analysts said. A local Democratic strategist who declined to be named said, ''what we do for Mike Dukakis is not a reflection on Mike Dukakis, it's a reflection on what type of person John Kerry is. Where are his loyalties?"

''Kerry has already stuck the knife in Dukakis's back," said GOP strategist Charley Manning, an adviser to Governor Mitt Romney. ''In the Democratic Party, if you're perceived as a loser, they just write you off. As you've seen, Dukakis has almost disappeared from the Democratic Party landscape since he lost that election in '88."

Republicans will continue to make the Kerry-Dukakis comparison, Gray said. And Kerry will be cast as a candidate ''out of the mainstream" regardless of the role Dukakis plays in the convention, said Heather Layman, spokeswoman for the Republican National Convention.

A senior adviser to Kerry said the Republicans are trying to use Dukakis to dodge Kerry.

''We're not avoiding anybody," said Michael Meehan. ''The Republicans want to run against everybody else but John Kerry. It's not going to work."

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