Rooting for Dad. Kara Dukakis, now a `celebrity,' joins father's campaign fray

IN the makeshift campaign headquarters here, with jumbles of wires and stacks of papers and yuppies speaking quickly into telephones, Gov. Michael Dukakis's daughter Kara seems amused. Though she has been interviewed many times before, the celebrity status she now enjoys is new, and she seems pleased that people have taken such an interest in her.

Still, she chooses her words carefully, her aides recording everything she says. This is the world of presidential politics, more than of family insights - a world where every quotation matters, and no one close to the candidate is spared.

Though Mr. Dukakis is in the paper daily, enduring the media glut and the political pressure, Miss Dukakis doesn't view him as a changed man.

``My father is a very steady person,'' she says. ``He is still my father in every sense. He still makes a real effort to be home when he knows we are going to be home. When he isn't on a campaign swing, he is home for dinner. I'm in contact with him a great deal.'' Kara graduated from Brookline High School in 1986 and then took a year off before entering Brown University. As soon as her father announced his candidacy, she spearheaded ``Students for Dukakis'' organizing rallies, tailgate parties, and door-to-door distribution by students of literature on the governor.

Periodically during the school year, Miss Dukakis would go to other states as a ``surrogate'' for her father, though the bulk of her work has been campaigning among college students.

Now at age 19, she is eloquent and mature in front of a camera and tape recorder:

``It's been an incredible experience for me, learning how the whole process works. I have become much more comfortable speaking, and just being in the public eye.''

She says being on the road isn't all luxurious, and in the Dukakis tradition, brushes off the notion of being more than an average American family.

``The fact that my family has been able to stay together throughout this in terms of campaigning together, and spending personal time together, and family time together, has been very important for all of us.''

What Miss Dukakis has always been told, and what she thinks Americans need to understand, is that Dukakis is not a man who keeps what he believes bottled up: ``My father has always said, What you see is what you get. I can't think of a person who that statement is more true about than my father.''

As far as the other nominee's children, Miss Dukakis stressed that there was no tension between families. ``When the Jacksons came to dinner on the Fourth of July, Jonathan Jackson [Jesse Jackson's third-eldest child] joined my family. I got along with him very, very well. We enjoyed the concert together afterwards, and we spent a lot of time together in Atlanta.

``I was so happy when I got introduced to the rest of the kids, who I had been really curious about because I had liked Jonathan so much. They were all very nice. I was incredibly impressed at their performance the night their father spoke.''

Kara, the youngest of three children, says she travels with the Secret Service only when she is with her parents, but that she was prepared for dealing with security as her father got closer to becoming the nominee. ``I have realized that they are there to do a job, and that job is very important. It was an adjustment at first, but I feel OK about it now.''

Miss Dukakis has found that she is always glad to return to Brookline, the middle- to upper-middle-class suburb of Boston where the Dukakises make their home. She treasures her experience growing up in that community. Yet she has to contend with the fact that since the last time she was in town, she has achieved celebrity status.

``I don't really look at [Brookline] differently. If anything, I am more grateful for growing up there. My personal life really hasn't changed a great deal. I think that's one of the special things about Brookline. It's pretty consistent.''

Family values are a topic she holds almost as dearly as her father. ``It's something I was brought up with. The fact that my father always made his family a priority, whether it was being home for dinner every night at a certain time, or coming to my school open houses, or just sitting down and helping me with my homework or talking to me about a problem - that has always been part of my life and is most certainly something I will exercise when I bring up my own family.

``I have never understood the whole thing about my father not being compassionate or caring,'' she says, referring to attacks made by Dukakis opponents. ``He has been such a compassionate father. It doesn't really make sense to me.''

And what if Mike Dukakis wins in November?

``For the most part, my philosophy about the whole thing is, take it one day at a time. I try not to lose my head thinking about those things. We'll see.''

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