WASHINGTON — Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis disclosed Monday that he will enter the contest for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination, bringing to the campaign what his supporters claim is the appeal of traditional liberalism combined with state-of-the-art managerial efficiency.
In making public a decision he has been pondering since his reelection to a third gubernatorial term by a record majority last November, the 53-year-old Dukakis told a Boston press conference: "I have the energy to run this marathon, the strength to run this country, the experience to manage our government and the values to lead our people."
He said he will make a formal announcement of his candidacy on May 4.
The potential strength of Dukakis' appeal is that, perhaps more than anyone else in the Democratic race, his record may represent a way for his party to address the economic and other concerns of today's independent voters while clinging to the liberal, socially compassionate principles of the Democratic past.
Specifically, while the leader of one of the country's most liberal states, Dukakis has attracted nationwide attention for a new program to put welfare recipients to work with education and job training. At the same time, he has been a leader in the highly successful revival of the long-troubled Massachusetts economy.
But even Dukakis' partisans concede that his path to the nomination is strewn with obstacles. As a governor, he will find it hard to claim command of foreign policy issues. Although he is no more obscure than most of his rivals, some of them have already put in months of barnstorming around the country.
Governorship a Problem
And perhaps most troublesome of all for Dukakis is that he will have to campaign while running his state. No sitting governor has been nominated for the presidency in either party since the Democrats picked Adlai E. Stevenson in 1952, before the time-demanding system of primaries took over the nominating process.
Dukakis, when asked in a recent interview to describe the kind of leadership he could offer the nation if he should reach the Oval Office, harked back to the New Frontier of John F. Kennedy, whose example, he said, gave life to his own political career. "That was a great time for this country because of the sense that we were all in it together," he said.
But the focus of Dukakis' candidacy seems likely to be his advocacy of a new Democratic approach to governance. When asked how much the Democratic Party has changed as the result of the defeat in 1984 of Walter F. Mondale and other spokesmen for traditional liberalism, Dukakis said: "I think the values are the same, the ideals are the same, the goals are the same."
What has changed, Dukakis said, are the roads down which the party's leaders are ready to march to reach the old goals. Using the housing problem as an example, the governor testified on Capitol Hill last week on behalf of federal aid to deal with the homeless, whose plight he called "an absolute scandal, a national embarrassment."
"What they would have said 20 years ago," he said, "is appropriate a block of money, build the housing and everything is going to be fine."
Goal Remains Same
Nowadays, Dukakis said: "You have to make the dollars go farther by involving builders, involving communities, getting the states into this. But the goal is the same, and that is decent affordable housing for all Americans." As governor, Dukakis has championed such innovations as mixed-income rather than purely low-income public housing.
Similarly, the Democratic approach to welfare has also changed, a shift that is reflected, Dukakis contended, in the success of his welfare program, known formally as employment and training choices and popularly as "E. T."
"What we are saying now is that if we are going to help people lift themselves out of poverty, there is a kind of mutual responsibility here, there is responsibility on the part of government to provide day care and job training," he said. "But there is also the responsibility on the part of the recipient and on the part of the absent father to support his kids.
"Democrats weren't talking that way 10 years ago."
Beyond combining traditional Democratic goals with more new-fangled means, Dukakis has other claims on the electorate. Like New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, who decided last month that he would not be a presidential candidate, Dukakis not only is governor of a Northeastern state but also has recent ethnic origins--his parents were both Greek immigrants.
Experienced TV Performer
But Dukakis lacks what has probably been Cuomo's greatest strength--the ability to fire up a crowd with passionate oratory. He is, however, a skillfully restrained television performer, thanks to his experience as moderator of the public television show "The Advocates."