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Tries to Build Perception That He Has Chance at Victory : Dukakis Renews Attacks on Polls

Times Staff Writers

Give him credit for consistency: Michael S. Dukakis always has told people not to pay attention to polls.

The reasons have changed, of course. Back when he was ahead, the Democratic presidential nominee regularly recalled his 1978 reelection campaign for governor of Massachusetts. He was 50 points up in the polls then, and Boston’s Red Sox were 14 games ahead.

“And we both went down the tubes together,” Dukakis reminded voters. Back then--only a few months ago--he sometimes would laugh.

Today, grim determination has ousted laughter. And Dukakis is crossing the country with a new campaign refrain.

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‘Pollsters Don’t Vote’

“My friends, pollsters don’t vote, people vote,” Dukakis told more than 3,000 cheering supporters Wednesday at a balloon-bedecked noon rally under azure skies in the courthouse square here.

The image of Harry S. Truman and his upset victory in 1948 now comes up often in Dukakis rallies, and Democratic officials take turns reminding the crowds of come-from-behind wins in the past.

“I was 19 points down,” Colorado Rep. Ben Nighthorse Campbell said at the Pueblo rally. Two days earlier in Los Angeles, Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) told of his surprise election in 1952. Digging back even earlier than Truman, Simon also told the Democratic faithful about 1916, when Woodrow Wilson won an unexpected victory by carrying California.

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The attacks on pollsters are crucial for Dukakis because his hopes of winning the Nov. 8 election now depend on two things. And both of those, in turn, depend on boosting the perception that Dukakis still has a realistic chance.

The two goals are wooing away independent-minded voters who currently lean toward Vice President George Bush and inspiring a large turnout among the Democratic Party’s base. Dukakis’ schedule on Wednesday reflected both those imperatives.

Discusses Latino Strategy

Dukakis began the day discussing strategy with national Latino leaders in Denver before flying here, to the economically depressed Latino center of the state, for a rally.

He repeatedly spoke to the crowd in Spanish, voicing opposition to an “English only” referendum on the state ballot. And he defended himself again against charges by Republicans and the National Rifle Assn. that he would confiscate guns from sportsmen.

“My concern,” he said, is “teen-agers running around in major cities with Uzis and AK-47s,” two models of automatic weapons that have been confiscated from gang members in Los Angeles and elsewhere.

He fully supports the rights of hunters, sportsmen and people who want a gun for self-protection at home to keep weapons, he said.

And he suggested in a chat with the city’s police chief, Bob Silver, that a federally mandated waiting period for gun purchases--something he supports and Bush opposes--could have stopped former Colorado resident John W. Hinckley Jr. from buying the gun used to try to kill President Reagan in 1982.

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Renews Populist Attack

Dukakis also renewed his populist attack on Bush’s proposed capital gains tax cut plan. In the rally here, he asked people to raise their hands if they earn more than $200,000 a year. Only one woman did.

“You’ll get $30,000" from Bush’s tax plan, Dukakis said.

Then, Dukakis asked everyone who earns less than $40,000 a year to raise their hands. “You won’t get a dime!” he told the dozens of people waving hands.

Afterward, Dukakis flew to Chicago for a town meeting in suburban DuPage County. It is a traditionally Republican area, but one with many well-educated, affluent voters who Dukakis aides hope will be turned off by negative aspects of Bush’s campaign.

Aides insist the campaign’s focus groups have begun showing that voters accept their argument that Bush is to blame for the negative tone of this year’s race. But they concede they have not yet seen evidence of voters taking the next step and converting to Dukakis.

While fast-growing DuPage County represents the swing voters Dukakis seeks, Latinos, along with black voters, are a key part of the Democratic base he must keep. Polls do show that base supporting Dukakis heavily over Bush. But in both communities, Dukakis has had problems inspiring a high turnout. And those problems help illustrate the difficulties his campaign faces.

Attracting Blacks’ Support

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Dukakis did little to court the black community in the primaries. And he has only recently begun to achieve the sort of support that past Democratic candidates could routinely count on.

By contrast, in the Latino community, Dukakis began with considerable support but has squandered some of his lead through lack of attention, political leaders say.

In the primaries, he campaigned speaking fluent Spanish in Latino areas, and the Latino vote in Texas was key to his important primary victory there.

But it has only been in the last two weeks that Dukakis brought in Rep. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.), a leading Latino member of Congress and one of the Democratic Party’s rising stars, to coordinate a national effort among Latinos.

Richardson has campaigned in 13 states in the past two weeks and has begun using a $1-million Latino media budget to buy extensive time on Spanish-language radio and television stations for ads, some of which feature Dukakis, speaking in Spanish, talking about drugs and about his heritage as an immigrant.

The goal, he said, is to boost Latino turnout from the 60% level of four years ago to 70% this year and to increase the Democratic share of that vote a few points from the two-thirds level that Walter F. Mondale received in 1984.

Using ‘Crash Program’

Because of the delay in getting started, he conceded, the campaign now has to use a “crash program.”

“If we don’t do that, we’re going to lose the election.”

The Denver meeting with Latino leaders from 14 states brought Dukakis warm expressions of support. Some, perhaps, were a little more candid than his campaign aides would have liked.

“He’s a technocrat,” said Rep. Albert G. Bustamante (D-Tex.), “perhaps that’s what we need.” Noting that Bush has labeled Dukakis a “liberal,” Bustamante then delivered the sort of defense of liberalism that Dukakis, himself, has been unwilling to do.

“If liberalism means we care about children, that we care about the elderly, that we care about the environment, that we care about family farmers” about managing the defense budget and investing in the future of the country,” he said, “then I am for Michael Dukakis, the liberal of 1988.”


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