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Dukakis’ Calif. Hopes Rest on Turnout Drive

Times Political Writer

Bush has a message and Dukakis has muscle.

That is the contrast as the presidential campaign enters its final full week in California and both candidates continue to spend much of their time seeking the state’s 47 electoral votes.

Republican George Bush has moved ahead of Democrat Michael S. Dukakis in state polls by reaching conservative Democrats like Todd Zacharias, a 26-year-old tool salesman from Riverside. In an interview, Zacharias said he is concerned about whether Dukakis will be tough enough on crime and also believes that Bush “won’t uproot the economy Reagan has built.”

But Bush’s state advisers are nagged by one major fear: If the race is close, they cannot hope to match the Democratic plan to turn out voters.

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That turnout effort is now the great hope of Dukakis, who will take a train up the San Joaquin Valley today for a series of campaign rallies.

With an investment of $4.5 million, his supporters have built the most extensive contact apparatus in California history. It has 92 field offices, 500 paid organizers and 25,000 volunteers.

Visits to field offices around the state found computers on line from Richmond and Modesto in the north to South-Central Los Angeles and San Diego in the south.

Using U.S. Census information, voting records and street addresses, the field effort is targeting not so much reliable Democrats but those who sometimes miss elections--known in the campaign as “occasionals"--as well as Democrats who registered to vote in the last nine months.

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The plan is a massive version of an experiment used to help reelect Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston in 1986.

It is based on a model created by two former United Farm Workers organizers, Fred Ross and Marshall Ganz, whose theory is that voter turnout efforts will work if the computerized information can be combined with a system of closely monitored door-to-door contacts.

In one of the odder aspects of the plan, the 11,000 Dukakis precinct leaders in California have had to take special oaths in which they swear to turn out a certain number of occasional voters in their precincts.

Seek to Create Momentum

The heavy funding of the apparatus not only pays for the computers and the office rents, it pays for lawn signs and placards, which are used by the volunteers to try to create a sense of momentum in neighborhoods near the end of the campaign.

This approach is scoffed at by some political consultants who insist that a campaign “message” delivered by television ads, direct mail and through media coverage is what decides modern elections.

But even some consultants credited the Ross-Ganz plan with Art Agnos’ upset victory in the San Francisco mayor’s race in 1987.

“If we are within three points of Bush, I think this field organization can put us over the top,” insisted Dukakis California Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers.

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Finding New Converts

Dukakis advisers said that their nightly tracking polls are finding new converts among voters concerned about a Bush presidency and such issues as health care and the environment.

But Bush led by 11 points in a Los Angeles Times Poll taken a week ago. More significant, the survey found that Bush had hurt Dukakis with conservative Democrats on the crime issue and was considered more likely to reduce the budget deficit created by the Reagan-Bush Administration.

Travels around the state and interviews with voters and elected officials found the following in key areas:

The Democrats hope for a phenomenal turnout among black voters and working-class whites along the San Pablo Bay and in the eastern part of the county. The Republican strength is in central county communities such as Walnut Creek.

Up for grabs are younger families who moved to central and western Contra Costa County to buy a house and now worry about day care and stretching two paychecks.

Interviews with riders on the area’s rapid transit system found evidence that Bush had defined himself more successfully than Dukakis. But there also appeared to be some complacency among Bush voters, who said they thought he had a victory locked up.

Stakes Higher in North

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Both Bush and Dukakis have campaigned here, but the stakes are higher for Dukakis because Northern California is his base. He not only has to win big in the Democratic strongholds of San Francisco and Alameda counties, he needs to match Cranston’s successes in Contra Costa, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.

In San Mateo County, for example, Bush has been favored until recently, but aides to Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos said Friday that their polling in the county now shows Dukakis pulling ahead.

Santa Clara, with its pro-Republican high tech industries, is tougher for Dukakis, but the Democrats’ voter turnout machine there is one of the biggest in the state.

In the rural parts of the district, local Democrats say Dukakis has been hurt badly by National Rifle Assn. ads implying that he would take guns away from hunters and sportsmen.

“The ads have really distorted his position on gun control, but no question they’ve hurt,” said Tim Baker, a Fresno Democrat who is in the odd position of being both a supporter of Dukakis and an advocate of Republican Gov. George Deukmejian.

Deukmejian is featured in radio ads running heavily in the valley. He attacks Dukakis for being opposed to the death penalty and points out that Dukakis “supports the boycott of our table grapes.”

Coelho failed to persuade Dukakis to abandon his support for a boycott of table grapes by the United Farm Workers, who charge that the grapes are contaminated with pesticides. It is one of those local issues that national campaigns sometimes underestimate.

Stanislaus and Fresno counties resemble Contra Costa in that young families are moving in to get affordable housing. Dukakis hopes his advocacy of greater government activism in the areas of day care, health insurance and affordable housing will reach these voters.

He had hoped that his family’s story of immigration and success would appeal to the many ethnic groups in the valley. It probably has to some extent, but local Democrats say he failed to follow up strongly on the highly emotional rally he held in Modesto right after the Democratic convention in July.

Drawn to that rally was Bupinder Dosanjh, who immigrated to the Modesto area from India as a child. Now in his late 30s, he sells insurance. He and his wife, a nurse, hustle to make ends meet for their three children.

Dosanjh said in an interview that he got very excited about Dukakis while watching the Democratic convention on television and that is why he showed up for the July rally, which drew 8,000 on a hot Saturday morning.

But Dosanjh has since become disillusioned with Dukakis.

“It’s like he was here, and then he just fizzled away,” he said.

Likes Bush’s Experience

Meanwhile, he said, Bush has won him over by pointing out his experience in national office and by portraying Dukakis as soft on crime.

Dukakis never hoped to win the San Joaquin Valley, where conservative Democrats have teamed up with Republicans in presidential elections for years. He just wanted to stay close, the way Cranston did in 1986.

The question now is whether the formidable Dukakis voter turnout apparatus can hold back a Bush landslide in the valley.

The exception is a possible strong vote for Dukakis in Los Angeles County, where the key will be the turnout of black and Latino voters.

The Dukakis organization in South-Central Los Angeles, run by Mary Ann Isles, a former supporter of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, is bustling with the kind of activity that would seem to portend some success there. This is despite a notable lack of excitement for Dukakis.

“I will vote for Dukakis because I always vote Democrat,” said an unenthusiastic Birdie Purves as she stood on her neat lawn near Western Boulevard and 90th Street.

But at the Dukakis field office, Isles insisted, “ We are the campaign in this community, not Dukakis or Jackson.”

Target Precincts

All around her, volunteers clacked away on computers beneath huge wall maps showing the targeted precincts in South-Central.

“For years,” said Isles, “these voters have waited for their officials to tell them how to vote, but they did not really understand what they were voting for. I think that’s the difference. We are explaining to them how important it is to turn out for the Democratic ticket, and we are going to get them.”

Dukakis state director Tony Podesta insists his tracking polls show “movement” in Los Angeles County in recent days among so-called Reagan Democrats. The belief in the campaign is that the older conservative Democrats will back the Democratic ticket because they are starting to have public policy needs.

Jim Mize, a tool and die maker in Downey who was interviewed a month ago by The Times, said Friday that he had made up his mind to support Dukakis.

sh Concern for Health Care

Mize, who is 60, said one of his major concerns about Bush is that he will not do enough for older people in the area of health care.

He said he was not persuaded by Bush’s charges that Dukakis is soft on crime.

“I did my own research on that,” Mize said. “That prison furlough thing was not started by Dukakis. He ended it. I think Bush has tried to smear him.”

(Actually, Dukakis limited the furlough program, barring participation by those serving life sentences without possibility of parole.)

Reagan won Los Angeles County in 1984, but Cranston won it by 215,000 votes in 1986. Dukakis probably needs to win it by half a million votes if he is to have any chance of taking the state.

In Orange County, a poll commissioned by The Times projected that Bush could run up a 400,000-vote margin there. That was Reagan’s Orange County margin when he won the state four years ago.

Strong Field Organization

Dukakis’ only hope to prevent that margin is his field organization, the strongest ever mounted in the county by a Democrat.

“I’ve got 20 full-time employees, 2,000 volunteers and 700 targeted precincts,” said coordinator Bob Hattoy. “All of the ‘occasional Democrats’ are being contacted. I don’t think they show up in the polls. If we get them out (along with reliable Democratic voters), we have a chance to keep it closer here.”

As in Contra Costa County, the Republicans fear complacency in Orange County. That’s why Reagan will stump here in the final days.

Also expected to go heavily for Bush is San Diego County, with its rapidly growing population of military retirees. Again, the Democratic field work and GOP complacency are Dukakis’ only hope of keeping it close.

The many conservative Democrats in Riverside and San Bernardino counties probably hold the key there, where the Dukakis goal is simply to prevent a landslide.

Recent interviews there by The Times and by Los Angeles television reporters indicate that Dukakis has been hurt by the crime issue and that he has not made a compelling case for himself among the rapidly dwindling pool of undecided voters.


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