Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts was exuberant. In a single night last week he had raised $1 million for his 1988 presidential campaign. At the same time, a Washington Post-ABC News poll showed him in second place in the field of Democratic hopefuls, trailing only front-runner Jesse Jackson. To celebrate, Dukakis blew a trumpet solo at his Boston fund-raising gala and waltzed with his wife, Katharine. But within two days the high-flying contender had been brought to earth with a thump. To a hurriedly called news conference he announced that despite earlier denials, members of his campaign staff had indeed been the source of reports of plagiarism that had knocked his rival, Senator Joseph Biden, out of the presidential race a week earlier.
The offender, said Dukakis, was his campaign manager, John Sasso. And although Sasso had provided videotaped evidence of his rival’s plagiarism without his knowledge, Dukakis said that he took full responsibility for a “very, very serious error.” The governor added that he had refused to accept Sasso’s resignation. But within a few hours Sasso announced that he had persuaded Dukakis to let him leave—along with the campaign’s political director, Paul Tully. Clearly, the loss of the two key figures was as serious a blow to the Dukakis campaign as the leak itself. Also damaging, said some analysts, was Dukakis’s admission that he had not known what his campaign staff members were doing. Dukakis, they pointed out, had repeatedly criticized President Ronald Reagan for claims that he did not know what his White House staff had been doing in the Iran-contra affair.
Dukakis’s setback may also have damaged the Democratic party itself, already reeling under the enforced withdrawal of two candidates—Biden the week before, and Senator Gary Hart last May, because of his association with Miami model Donna Rice. Said Democratic pollster Geoffrey Garin: “These soap operas have got to stop if we are going to take back the White House.” Added Robert Beckel, campaign manager for defeated 1984 Democratic candidate Walter Mondale: “It’s like a bad dream.” At week’s end, Dukakis was still in the race, but limping badly.
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