The Luncheon Society/Mike Dukakis–Looking ahead to the 2020 Presidential Election/SF–Fior d’Italia/January 17, 2020/LA–Napa Valley Grille/February 28, 2020

Each year since 1999, The Luncheon Society season usually begins with gatherings in LA and SF with former Massachusetts Governor and 1988 Democratic Presidential nominee Mike Dukakis.

Happy to be free of Boston winters while teaching at UCLA, we usually have a January gathering in Westwood’s Napa Valley Grille for a great group of people.  Because Mike and Kitty have grandchildren in San Francisco, we are often able to schedule a gathering on a Friday afternoon.

The Basic Dukakis Message to any candidate. If you’re going to run statewide in Massachusetts, there are 2182 voter precincts. The candidate needs to appoint a precinct captain for every precinct. Each Precinct Captain needs to appoint 6 assistants who live within the precinct. He will warn that you cannot have Labor or other groups come into your precincts days before the election for any desired effect. These people need to live in the precinct, and they have to be in sustained contact with the voters for weeks and months before Election Day.

Elizabeth Warren and Duval Patrick, two people who had never run statewide, heard that speech in the Dukakis living room in Brookline.  They took it to heart and both won their elections.  In the case of Warren, who was looking to unseat popular US Senator Scott Brown, polls showed that they were running neck and neck on Election Eve.  However, once the votes were counted, Warren found herself with a solid seven point win.  In the end, as Dukakis sees things, a solid grassroots campaigning can add 5-7% to your election tally, enough to turn a nail biter into a solid win.

Great story.  Years ago, we had a Luncheon Society with Dukakis and he underlined the importance of a strong ground game. An unnamed political operative around the table took issue with his approach.  He said, “Governor, in California it’s just too hard to walk precincts.”

Dukakis stopped him in mid-sentence and said, “Look, I walked precincts while the Boston Strangler was on the loose—now that’s hard!”

His own race for the White House. Back in 1988, when Dukakis emerged as the front runner for the Democratic nomination, he wanted to organize California down the smallest precinct because he felt that the state was changing from Red to Blue.  Four years earlier in 1984, Ronald Reagan beat Mondale in a state landslide winning the state 57-41%, with a plurality of 1.5 M votes. Four years later, George HW Bush won California, but by only 4% because Dukakis was able to improve Mondale’s 1984 numbers by over 1.2 Million voters.  Since that point, California has become a reliable Democratic stronghold.

Moreover, Dukakis firmly believes in the 50 state strategy for Democrats.  In 2004, Dukakis reminded everybody that there were 10,000 people in Alabama who contributed to John Kerry’s presidential campaign.  There should have been 10,000 lawn signs, 10,000 people walking neighborhood precincts, and 10,000 building a new Democratic Party in Alabama. Better still, that unexpected strength in Alabama would have kept Republican money in their backyard instead of venturing out in to the battleground states like Ohio.

As Dukakis turns to 2020, he was supporting Elizabeth Warren in the primaries and while she seemed to have a plan for every issue under the sun, he could not understand how she stumbled when it came to detailing the costs of her “Medicare for All Initiative.”  Once she began to stumble in the polls, it soon became a freefall and within a short amount of time, Warren had suspended her national campaign.

The other critique was with Kamala Harris, who brought up the long ago issue of forced busing to topple Joe Biden, only to have it derail her campaign. He noted that going negative in a multi-candidate primary will blow up in the candidate’s face each and every time.” Recalling just how divisive busing was in Boston and how bad actors like Louisa Day Hicks hijacked the issue for political gain, fighting the battles of the 1970’s had no place in a 2020 race.”

Dukakis has embraced Biden’s middle-inning emergence as the Democratic front runner. Back in 1988, Dukakis tried to build a “four corners approach” to Super Tuesday, placing their hopes on Maryland, Florida, Texas, and Washington State.  Even though Al Gore tried to emerge as the “Favorite Son of the New South,” North Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky, it was Dukakis whose momentum switched into high gear as he swept all of the May and June primaries, except for the District of Columbia.

He also mentioned that Trump’s race again Biden would be very different than his race against Hillary Clinton in 2016.  He said that Biden can pull Democrats and independents in places like Pennsylvania as well as other midwestern states. He mentioned that it was amazing how Biden was able to recover because we sat down with Duke in San Francisco when Biden’s campaign was now considered down and out.  However, by the time we sat down in Los Angeles, the campaign was rejuvenated.  He was able to pivot with his second place finish in Nevada and won everywhere on Super Tuesday, including upsets in both Minnesota, Washington state and Massachusetts.

The one issue that Dukakis would like to see is more infrastructure development within some of the interior communities that have been ravaged by the losses of manufacturing jobs as well as the disappearance of multi-generational jobs like coal and farming. Jobs like coal are never going to return but there needs to be a replacement or else these regions will continue to hollow out as resources are diverted to the highly population urban and suburban areas.  

The grinding poverty of the Appalachian region, which starts in New York’s Southern Tier, moves down through Pennsylvania, Kentucky and down into the northern sections Alabama and Mississippi has been talked about for generations but now is the time for real action. The gaps in education, income, and life expectancy need to be addressed at a regional and national level to build hope and progress for the long term.

Mike and Kitty Dukakis will return to Boston in April and will join a Luncheon Society in Boston, once the Coronavirus pandemic slows down to a point where Boston-area restaurants reopen.  We hope to see everybody then.

The Luncheon Society ™ is a series of private luncheons and dinners that take place in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Manhattan, and Boston. We essentially split the costs of gathering and we meet in groups of 20-25 people. Discussions center on politics, art, science, film, culture, and whatever else is on our mind. Think of us as “Adult Drop in Daycare.” We’ve been around since 1996 and we’re purposely understated. These gatherings takes place around a large table, where you interact with the main guest and conversation becomes end result. There are no rules, very little structure, and the gatherings happen when they happen. Join us when you can.

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