Former Governor Michael Dukakis says he can't understand why Barack Obama's campaign has failed to turn his huge grassroots following into a powerful ground organization.
Dukakis, who built his political career with strong grassroots campaigns, spoke for a couple of hours last night at Emerson College, reflecting on his own presidential run in 1988 and this year's election.
Obama, he said, has not yet tapped the power of the crowds that turn out to hear him speak -- "they shouldn't be allowed to leave the room" without signing up to volunteer, he said -- and that the Illinois senator has not capitalized on the hundreds of thousands of Internet contributions he's received.
He said his wife Kitty, an Obama supporter and contributor, routinely gets e-mails from the campaign asking her to donate more money, but not to canvass for the campaign.
"I'm baffled," he said, adding that Obama could be a "formidable" candidate if he figured out how to harness his popularity by organizing at the precinct level, as Deval Patrick did in 2006.
A student involved in the Obama campaign countered that the campaign had recruited lots of volunteers at Obama's last rally in Boston, and that busloads of Massachusetts supporters were traveling to New Hampshire to canvass.
Dukakis shook his head impatiently. The campaign has to be run from the neighborhoods, he said, with New Hampshire people canvassing in New Hampshire and Massachusetts people canvassing their own blocks.
"This state is going to be important," he added, noting that Massachusetts has moved its primary up to Feb. 5. "They should be working here."
Dukakis said he is also very concerned that the Democratic Party as a whole does not understand that running a grassroots race in all 50 states is critical to winning the 2008 election -- as witnessed by the party's impatience with Howard Dean, he said, who wants to do just that.
Dukakis also called Romney as "a fraud" and joked about the Globe story yesterday that found Romney continuing to use a landscaping service that employs illegal immigrants, despite Romney's high-flown rhetoric against those who harbor them.
"I use a push-lawnmower, and have ever since Kitty and I were married, " said the famously thrifty Dukakis, to laughter. "If you do your own grass-cutting with a push-lawnmower you'll never get into trouble about illegal immigrants. But then, my house is somewhat smaller, with considerably less land."
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.