Dukakis's loss is Ferraro's gain as Sasso joins presidential campaign

If the Mondale-Ferraro ticket fails to carry Massachusetts in the November presidential election, do not blame Gov. Michael S. Dukakis. Like the Democratic partisan that he surely is, the Bay State chief executive is supporting his party's national standard-bearers with unabashed enthusiasm.

Long before Massachusetts' presidential primary last March, Governor Dukakis was aboard the Mondale bandwagon, as were many other members of his administration. Although disappointed when the former vice-president came in second to Gary Hart in the statewide Democratic preference vote, the governor unwaveringly held his ground.

Walter Mondale's well-established liberal political leanings are a major reason for Dukakis's enthusiasm, but perhaps even more important is the governor's disdain for Republican President Ronald Reagan's policies and philosophical stance on most issues. Since his return to the governship in January 1983, Dukakis has seldom missed an opportunity to speak out against what he views as shortcomings of the current Oval Office occupant.

By contrast, former Gov. Edward J. King (whom Dukakis unseated in the 1982 Bay State Democratic primary) had praised the Reagan presidency, particularly its handling of the nation's economy. In 1980 Mr. King, a Democrat, did little to help Jimmy Carter's reelection bid. When the votes were counted in Massachusetts, Republican Reagan carried the state.

Governor Dukakis has already made a major contribution to the Mondale cause by making available his top aide and adviser, John Sasso, to the Democrats' effort to win back the White House. Mr. Sasso, the boyish-looking but very astute gubernatorial chief secretary, has been named national campaign manager for vice-presidential nominee Geraldine A. Ferraro.

Whether Sasso proves to be an asset to the Democratic ticket, especially in marketing the talents of the nation's first woman candidate on a major party ticket, remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: Sasso is a top professional on the national political scene, having served six years as top administrative aide to US Rep. Gerry E. Studds (D) and later having worked in the 1980 presidential campaign of US Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D) as coordinator in three states.

Dukakis presumably could have held Mr. Sasso back. If there had been any inkling within the Mondale-Ferraro camp that tapping Sasso would have displeased Governor Dukakis, he would not have been recruited.

Despite Sasso's current intention to return to his post on the Dukakis team after the November election, regardless of its outcome, the possibility remains that he may elect to swim in bigger political ponds. A Mondale victory, for example, may open a number of attractive career opportunities for him.

In the past, Dukakis has frowned upon leaves of absence by aides - even those for purposes of helping political candidates of his liking. Until now, such moves have rarely, if ever, been approved. He has made it clear that permission for Sasso to be away from his State House desk for the next three months is a special exception and that others cannot expect to return if they decide to step out for political campaigning.

While the governor is supportive of the Mondale-Ferraro team, he cannot afford what might become a mass exodus from his administration to their presidential campaign efforts. That would decimate the ranks of the Bay State's executive branch. As it is, not having Sasso around to tend to things could keep Dukakis closer to his desk than he might like over the next several weeks.

Still, there's no doubt the governor will actively involve himself in the presidential campaign. He may even schedule a number of presidential campaign appearances with, or in behalf of, Mondale or Ms. Ferraro.

Although Dukakis was willing to accept the No. 2 spot on his party's 1984 ticket, the Massachusetts chief executive has long been a staunch booster for a bigger role for women in government, including vice-president. In his current governorship and in his earlier administration from 1974 to 1978, women appointees figured prominently. Of 10 members in his cabinet, four are women, including Secretary of Economic Affairs Evelyn F. Murphy, who served as environmental affairs secretary in his first term.

To Dukakis, Ms. Ferraro's presence on the Democratic national ticket makes the Mondale presidential nomination all the more appealing, as underscored by his willingness to let Sasso leave. That the governor aims to do as much as he can to see that Massachusetts votes Democratic, as it has in recent presidential election excepting 1980, is as apparent as the golden dome atop the State House.

Since there is little to suggest that Mondale has much popularity within Bay State voter ranks, it's questionable how much campaigning he will be doing here. Instead, Massachusetts - with its large Italian-American population in several cities and towns - is likely to be included in several campaign swings of vice-presidential nominee Ferraro.

With staunch allies like Governor Dukakis and Boston Mayor Raymond L. Flynn ready, willing, and presumably able to carry on the campaign in Massachusetts, Mondale would have more time to focus on other areas (especially the South) with more electoral votes than the 13 here.

In approving the Sasso leave-of-absence, Dukakis may have concluded that his chief secretary's special talents may not be in high demand on Beacon Hill between now and election day. The legislature, for example, is in recess until about Oct. 1 and few people expect much lawmaking action until late fall or early winter, well after the national election.

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