In Massachusetts, Dukakis Haunts Voters, Giving GOP Ghost of a Chance

THIS year's political elections have a real Disney World feel to them. Take the Texas gubernatorial fight, in which Clayton Williams persists in treating opponent Ann Richards as The Pretty Little Gal With That Unfortunate Drinkin' Problem. That certainly qualifies as the electoral version of ``Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.'' The race for governor in California, with Diane Feinstein and Pete Wilson swapping allegations of S&L improprieties, sounds a lot like ``It's a Small, Small World.'' But in Massachusetts, this Halloween eve, the elections have a horror-show aura, bringing to mind ``The Haunted House.'' With Michael Dukakis as the leading ghost.

This election year in the Bay State can be viewed as one long tribute to the late Patrick J. (Sonny) McDonough, the legendary Boston city councilor who uttered the immortal words, ``Lame duck is my favorite dish.'' Everyone, it seems, is running against Mike Dukakis - even John Silber, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate. Silber has openly expressed his scorn for the outgoing governor, so much so that when he recently called Dukakis ``a loser,'' it almost seemed a term of affection.

The failed Dukakis presidential campaign, as well as the coincidental failure of the state's economy, has made him public-sector Enemy No. 1 in Massachusetts. As such, he's been turning up in political advertising almost as much as the actual candidates have.

Even Silber's obvious disdain for the Duke hasn't deterred his Republican opponent, former US Attorney William Weld, from raising the specter of Dukakis in his television commercials. One current spot ends with a split screen - Silber on the left, looking vaguely like a raccoon caught in Weld's headlights, and Dukakis on the right, looking like, well, Mike Dukakis. An announcer says in an ominous voice, ``Silber. Dukakis. They're both sure they know what's best for us. Do they?''

Disregard entirely that Silber rode into the general election on a wave of anti-incumbent rage of Bastille Day proportions. Democrat, Dukakis - close enough for politics.

But Weld's effort is tame in comparison with some of the other political ads clogging up the Massachusetts airwaves. The US Senate race, which features incumbent John Kerry against millionaire Republican neophyte Jim Rappaport, has been an endless mugging of Kerry, who served as lieutenant governor to Dukakis in 1982 and 1983. That's apparently a strong enough connection for Rappaport to blame Kerry for everything but the Massachusetts weather.

One Rappaport commercial starts with a photo of Dukakis's face that painstakingly turns, piece by piece, into Kerry's - a transformation which, at the halfway point, is sufficiently macabre to qualify for a low-budget ghoul flick.

Along the same lines, the state treasurer's race finds Republican hopeful Joe Malone Duke-spooking Democratic candidate Bill Galvin, a state representative in a legislative body that wouldn't give Dukakis the time of day at gunpoint. Regardless, Malone's commercial shows a picture of Galvin that rotates to reveal a photo of the Duke on the flipside.

Spinning heads. Joe Malone as ``The Exorcist.'' That's a particularly nice touch, since Galvin's nickname among his colleagues happens to be ``The Prince of Darkness.''

Mike Dukakis may be haunting Massachusetts voters now, but the decisions they make in this election could bedevil them for years to come. Rappaport and Malone have no government experience whatsoever, and Weld precious little. If it indeed becomes amateur hour in the Bay State, the public may see a reprise of the Jimmy Carter syndrome: Spend three years figuring out what the job's all about, and one year packing your bag.

That prospect may, in the end, be the scariest thing of all.

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