Mike Dukakis is in trouble with the folks back home. ``We have a problem in our own back yard,'' says state Sen. Paul Harold, a Democrat. On a tour of his district recently, which includes this city south of Boston, Senator Harold was startled: He spoke with about 40 people, and not one of them was going to vote for the Duke.
A statewide newspaper poll Friday found the governor's standing among voters had sunk significantly, from an ``approval rating'' of 73 percent in August 1987 to 57 percent today.
That approval rating ties him with Ronald Reagan in this overwhelmingly Democratic state, though Dukakis still beats George Bush by 48 to 40 percent (plus or minus 4 percent), according to the Boston Globe poll.
Why this ratings free fall? Philip Stanley, Mr. Dukakis's state campaign director, says Dukakis is a prophet without honor in his own country. People who have known him longest are bound to be more critical. Meanwhile, the campaign is ``very confident'' about the way citizens are responding now that ``we're taking this state seriously.'' The governor has opened some 18 statewide offices in the past 10 days, up from 7. Twenty-eight will be in place by the end of the week.
Vice-President Bush's Northeast regional director, Ron Kaufman, chalks up Dukakis's slide to the effectiveness of the Bush campaign - and the governor's decision to make ``competence'' a central theme. Mr. Bush struck first on that issue, attacking Dukakis's record and putting him on the defensive. ``We've been able to hold up a mirror to Mike Dukakis,'' Mr. Kaufman says. And voters here are finding that ``he's not the man they thought he was.''
Harvard Prof. Gary Orren, who co-directed the Globe poll, says now that statewide perceptions of Dukakis's effectiveness have been shaken by Bush and others, Dukakis keenly feels the lack of two anchors that can sustain a politician's popularity through hard times: a Reaganesque reserve of affection with voters, and notable leadership on a set of issues.
``I don't think [Dukakis] has the greatest personality in the world,'' says John Gillis, Quincy town clerk and longtime political observer. ``But my gut feeling is that he'll do well in this state.'' But Dukakis needs to hit Bush harder, he says. ``I thought he'd tar Bush so bad on Panama that he wouldn't be able to breathe.''
In The Handshakes Caf'e near Quincy City Hall, a sampling of 14 patrons found all but three leaning away from the governor. The most pointed comment came from an insurance businessman: ``Personally, I'd like to see him out of the state,'' said Paul Hurley Jr. ``But he might do worse damage as president.''
While there was no enthusiasm for Bush, his charges seem to have gained a foothold here: Those interviewed mentioned Boston Harbor and doubts about the ``Massachusetts miracle'' economy. Two issues that have not appeared on Bush's attack agenda were dissatisfaction with the way Dukakis balanced the last state budget, and the statewide health insurance plan. Dukakis holds it up as a national model, but some here see it as costly and hastily put-together.
``I just don't have that trust,'' says librarian Fran Ryan when asked to compare Dukakis to another Massachusetts-grown politician, John Kennedy. Dukakis outperformed Bush in the recent debate, she and her two co-workers agree. Dukakis ``would sound better [than Bush] even if he were spouting Dr. Seuss,'' says Jan Granstrom, the only Republican this reporter came across. Nonetheless, the three librarians said they would not vote for Dukakis.
Henry Bosworth, publisher of the Quincy Sun, covered John Kennedy's campaign in Massachusetts. ``He was something special. He had that charisma, certainly.'' Dukakis, on the other hand, is ``cold. He tries to smile.''
Dukakis cannot hope to make people like him better as a person or to establish himself as champion of a particular set of causes, says Professor Orren. That takes years. What he must do now, he says, is to reestablish his credentials as a good manager. ``The best thing he could do would be to do well,'' he says.