Dukakis, Bush to square off, get closer on details. Dukakis - still trying to be candidate and governor, too

Wearing two hats can be uncomfortable - especially if one is that of a head of state and the other of a presidential candidate. But Michael Dukakis is doing just that, although with what success is a matter of increasing debate. If Mr. Dukakis wins in November, he will be the first sitting governor to become president since 1932, when Democrat Franklin Roosevelt, then New York's chief executive, did so. It has been 36 years (in 1952 with Democrat Adlai Stevenson of Illinois) since either party gave its presidential nomination to an incumbent governor.

With the presidential campaign in its final two months, Dukakis is finding himself increasingly under fire from members of his own party who want him to spend more time either on the political trail or in the commonwealth.

Even in this jet age, he cannot be in two places at once. But there is nothing to prevent him from getting as much mileage as he can from high-visibility pursuits, keeping the Massachusetts home fires burning.

Dukakis's recent two-day swings through various sections of the state were attempts, at least partly, to placate critics, including those who have suggested that he relinquish the executive reins at least temporarily.

As might be expected, Dukakis's local roadshow got little national attention, though the governor tried to make the most of every opportunity to tout what he considers the accomplishments of his governorship and to fault Reagan policies.

Dukakis can hardly afford to leave the impression with state voters that Massachusetts is any less important to him than before, but he simply does not have time for much more than a hop-scotch visit to a few communities.

Dukakis has made such two- and three-day, business and politicking ventures with members of his cabinet around the state a part of his late-summer gubernatorial schedule for several years. It is an effort to bring at least a glimpse of state government in action to people who seldom get to Beacon Hill, and perhaps in the process also do some political fence-mending.

Each swing includes on-location announcement of special grants or citations to those whose innovative programs have contributed to a better economy or an improved environment.

Dukakis's late-August visits to the commonwealth came at a time when some presidential-preference samplings in the Bay State indicated that Dukakis's once substantial lead over Republican George Bush had narrowed considerably.

With the state legislature apparently ready to continue its informal recess until after the November election, it should be easier for the governor to spend most of his time outside Massachusetts, as various national Democratic leaders have been urging.

Were the Senate and House to resume business, Dukakis critics, particularly Republican lawmakers, would almost surely try to spotlight the state's continuing fiscal problems and various shortcomings of the Dukakis administration.

There is little doubt that Senate President William Bulger and House Speaker George Keverian, both Democrats, can see to it that the governor is spared having to deal with controversial issues that might cost him votes nationally. If, for example, there are going to be higher taxes, as some have suggested, it won't happen until after the November election.

But there is plenty of unfinished business, including auto-insurance and criminal-sentencing reform bills, passage of which just might help give Dukakis a lift, perhaps even a little momentum, as the November election nears.

Selling such proposals to individual state senators and representatives, however, could mean that the governor would have less time out of state on the campaign trail.

George Merry is a longtime observer of the Massachusetts political scene.

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