The convention comes to town, but The Duke is odd man out

Published July 26, 2004 12:06AM (EDT)

In some other universe, these might be the glory days for Michael Dukakis. With the convention in his hometown, with his old lieutenant governor running for president, the former Massachusetts governor and 1988 presidential candidate might be an in-demand man of the moment, or at least a venerated party elder. But as much as Democrats  and Kerry's people, in particular  might like Dukakis, they know the last thing they want is linkage between one "Massachusetts liberal" and another.

So Dukakis is in Boston this week, but he's way out on the periphery. George McGovern got a tribute event Sunday night, and Jimmy Carter and Al Gore get primetime speaking spots Monday. Among Democratic losers, Dukakis is the odd man out. He's sent to shake hands at low-luxe delegate parties, he'll moderate a far-from-the-cameras policy forum Tuesday, and he'll get a low-key tribute away from downtown Boston on Wednesday.

We caught up with Dukakis Sunday evening at a C-list party for the Florida delegation at Northeastern University, where he still teaches at 71. He and Kitty worked the room alone  no security, no advance team, just a single aide hovering nearby  and a sense of sadness seemed to travel with them. Is Dukakis unhappy about being held at arm's length? He doesn't answer, exactly. "I'm running around, running around like I got my head cut off," he says. "Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose."

Dukakis said he's proud of Kerry, and he sounded confident that the "Massachusetts liberal" tag won't weigh on him the way it did on Dukakis. "It's not sticking, it's old news," he said. Dukakis knows it stuck to him. "At the time, the Democratic Party was still kind of feeling its way through the post 'Great Society' era, and there it was. But you can only run that thing up the flagpole so many times."

Outside the event a few minutes later, Michael and Kitty stood on a lonely stretch of sidewalk, waiting for a ride. They chatted up a couple of Vietnamese-American food service workers, just to pass the time. "Tell us about yourselves," Dukakis asked as he approached them. "Where are you from?"

Kitty stayed close to her husband's arm. Has she spoken with Teresa Heinz Kerry about the role of the candidate's wife. "No, no I haven't," she said. What would she tell her if she had the chance? "Just be yourself and have a good time."

Her eyes spoke of things lost. As she finished, a Chevrolet Impala pulled to the curb. The governor and his wife climbed in back and rode off into the night.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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