Dispatches From the Democratic National Convention

Mike Dukakis Knows Something About Mitt Romney
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Sept. 4 2012 9:39 PM

Dispatches From the Democratic National Convention

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And the fleeting power of a good convention speech.   

Illustration by Robert Neubecker.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker.

I had just availed myself of an unattended chafing dish of congealed chicken quesadillas in a largely empty room on a mezzanine level of the Time Warner Center when a familiar-looking face wandered in my direction. “Is it bad that I don’t like Mexican food?” Kitty Dukakis asked.

Her husband stacked some food on a disposable plate and came over. “But Kitty, when I first met you loved Mexican food!”

Mike Dukakis knows a thing or two about conventions: He went to Los Angeles as a recent law-school grad in 1960, to Chicago a Eugene McCarthy delegate in 1968, and eight years later was in New York City as the governor of Massachusetts. “It’s good to be back—lots of familiar faces,” he said. Dukakis recalled that he spent the week he became the party’s nominee visiting an Atlanta-area relative’s restaurants, negotiating a détente with Jesse Jackson, and preparing to formally accept the honor. Dukakis still feels pretty good about that speech, although it chastened him to appreciate how ephemeral the impact of a good convention speech can be. “Atlanta was our high point,” he said.

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He had 20 minutes before he was scheduled, inexplicably, to be interviewed by the Fox News Channel’s Neal Cavuto. There was one thing Mike said he didn’t understand about the 2012 campaign: Why hadn’t more attention been paid to Mitt Romney’s economic record as governor? He dwelled on one statistic he thought should be more familiar by now: that his home state’s job growth had ranked 46th in the country during Romney’s term. It was, he said, one of the reasons he was doing the interview on Fox. “I just want to make sure people understand the Romney story in Massachusetts,” he said.

He looked around. “Where’d Kitty go?” he asked. She had already wandered off toward the hall, where anonymous speakers were occupying the early-evening podium. He had finished his quesadillas and was ready to move on. “Should we join the former first lady?” he asked.

Sasha Issenberg is the author of The Victory Lab about the new science of political campaigns.

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