Former Nominee Dukakis Says 2008 Election Depends on Grassroots Organization

1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis.
   In wide-ranging remarks at Saint Mary's College, 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis lauded both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, but stressed his party needs to improve its grassroots-level organization to win the White House in 2008.

"My party - and I include my 1988 campaign - has forgotten how to do grassroots, precinct-based campaigning," Dukakis told more than 200 people at the Soda Center on Feb. 25.

Dukakis, who served three terms as Massachusetts governor in the 1970s and 80s, has served on the Amtrak Board of Directors and taught political science at Northeastern University and UCLA for the past 16 years. He was accompanied at the College by his wife, Kitty, who spoke to a Women's Studies forum earlier in the afternoon.

For the 2008 campaign, the former presidential nominee advocated that the Democratic Party have a local captain in every one of the more than 200,000 national precincts who makes contact with each household in the area - Democratic, Independent and Republican.
"It works - the Obama campaign is showing that," said Dukakis, arguing that on-the-ground canvassing by local supporters has been a major reason Obama has won 11 primary and caucus elections in a row since Super Tuesday on Feb. 5.

Dukakis, who has not endorsed a candidate in this election, cautioned against the Democrats ceding certain states to Republicans, saying that Democratic governors in places like Colorado, Arizona and Montana demonstrate the political landscape is more fluid that some pundits believe.

"It's not clear why we call Kansas a red state and Democrats concede it to the Republicans, when most people in Kansas are working people who are struggling," he said.

In looking beyond the current campaign, Dukakis called for the abolition of the Electoral College system, which enabled the candidate with fewer popular votes to win the White House in 2000 and almost did so again in 2004.

"We need to get serious about finally giving the American people the right to elect their president," he said, adding that the final stages of the campaign should be more than the candidates "going to Michigan, Ohio, Florida and Missouri" over and over again.

During a panel with students, Dukakis said he noticed more mobilization among young people this election, particularly due to Obama's candidacy.

"We've seen that young people are more involved in community service than before, and I want that to translate into public service," he said, adding "The environment, homelessness and education - those are all political questions."

In assessing the last seven years of Republican control of the White House, Dukakis said the Bush administration has been "the worst national administration ever" - saving his strongest criticism for its performance in international affairs.

"The invasion of Iraq was the dumbest foreign policy decision in American history. Osama bin Laden was not in Iraq."

Saying he was "very concerned" John McCain is continuing the policies of the Bush administration, he warned that either Clinton or Obama would have to overcome harsh Republican attacks similar to the ones he faced in the 1988 election.

"I was burned badly by not responding; John Kerry was burned badly by not responding fast enough (in 2004)," he said. "You've got to respond and put responsibility for these kinds of attacks square in the lap of the Republican nominee from the get-go."

--John Grennan
Office of College Communications

Photos by Gorbachev Lingad '10