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Dukakis Picking His Second Place

THE RUNNING ARGUMENTS: A continuing Series Surveying the Presidential Campaign amd Candidates.

July 03, 1988|Stuart K. Spencer | Stuart K. Spencer was Ronald Reagan's senior campaign adviser in 1980 and 1984

IRVINE — Gov. Michael S. Dukakis has about two weeks to announce his first "presidential" decision, a choice of running mate. This year the choices are important for both parties, revealing not only names but also tipping the hand of the whole campaign strategy--which states will be the priorities for collecting the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.

Dukakis is thorough; I'm sure complete dossiers are being assembled on possible choices at his headquarters on Chauncy Street in Boston--not on the second and third floors where campaign headquarters are located, but in that limited-access suite on the fifth floor where his long-time friend and compatriot Paul Brountas is summarizing strengths and weaknesses on yellow legal pads. Dukakis does not like surprises.

Let's look at the field, the real field and the smoke screen, with pluses and minuses.

One prominent candidate will never be picked, first runner-up Jesse Jackson. Jackson has over 25% of the Democratic Convention delegates. He will get more at the convention from other politicians. Dukakis has publicly promised "serious consideration" of Jackson but he has never seriously considered such a pick. Dukakis wants to win; picking Jackson interferes with that goal.

Looking at the probables, one name stands out: Sen. John Herschel Glenn of Ohio turns 67 on July 18, the day the Democratic Convention opens in Atlanta. A genuine American hero of the World War II generation. Everyone over age 35 remembers that Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth, Feb. 7, 1962, reassuring us that we could compete with the Soviets in the space race. He is from Ohio and those 23 electoral votes would help. His wartime Marine Corps service and Armed Services Committee assignment strengthen whatever foreign policy and military deficiencies Dukakis may have in voters' minds. In a very real way, Glenn is the Democratic "Ike"--Midwestern, patriotic, salt of the earth. To balance a Northeastern, liberal, ethnic top of the ticket, Dukakis could not do better. Some people say Glenn is dull--I say solid.

Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, also 67, is the favorite of veterans from the 1960 Kennedy-Johnson campaign who saw the "Boston-Austin axis" work. Bentsen is a class act--smooth, successful and respected. Another World War II vet, he went to Congress at 27, stayed six years, then went back to Texas and the business world. In 1970, he took on an incumbent senator in the Democratic primary, beat him, and then beat a two-term Houston Republican congressman named George Bush in November.

The fact that Bentsen has already beaten the vice president--and perhaps could tip Texas to the Democratic column--is attractive to Dukakis. So is the prospect of the Bush campaign having to divert limited resources from other states and regions to Texas to shore up the vice president there. This is a high-risk strategy, however, which may come up short--no Texas electoral votes. Dukakis is no high-wire artist.

Sen. Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee, now a mature 40, is mentioned in some circles. One wonders how Dukakis could explain that to Jesse Jackson--"No. 2 won't do, but with No.3, I'm home free."

Sen. Bob Graham, 51, is another possibility. New to the Senate last year, he served eight years as governor of Florida where he was best known for environmental initiatives, for signing more than 100 death warrants--and for actually executing an average of two murderers a year during his terms. This tough-on-crime stance could be helpful to Dukakis, particularly if his prison furlough experiment (even for first-degree murderers) continues to get bad notices.

As the campaign heats up, you will hear more of one Willie Horton, who used his "weekend off" to terrorize and rape a Maryland woman a couple of years ago. But picking Graham does not guarantee adding Florida to the Democratic column. Indeed, Florida is the most Republican-tending Southern state--and Graham does not have much Washington experience, an essential to balance the "state only" experience of Dukakis.

A late entry may be a former presidential candidate from Missouri, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt. He was the guy with the early message in favor of U.S. workers and farmers--"It's your fight too!" that won the Iowa caucus. At 47, he is young, and from a critical border state. He is smart, has good political sense and could help in the Midwest.

The people pick a President, not a President plus a veep. The wrong veep pick can hurt, however. Don't expect Michael Dukakis to choose rashly and hurt himself; he doesn't like mistakes--and in the end, he knows it's his race alone.

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