The Democrats An Indelicate Balance

In picking Bentsen, Dukakis looked right and needlessly blindsided Jackson

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Dukakis' search for a running mate seemed to last as long as a Herman Wouk mini-series. On the night of the California primary, June 7, Dukakis' discreet alter ego, Paul Brountas, handed him a black binder containing, among other things, the late Washington Post Publisher Philip Graham's 1960 memo urging Jack Kennedy to select Lyndon Johnson as his running mate. It made an impression.

Brountas carried out the search much the way Dukakis would have: methodically and unimaginatively. He visited 50 leaders in Congress and saw that an additional 200 people were sounded out. After three weeks, Brountas and Dukakis trimmed the field to seven semifinalists: Senators Albert Gore, John Glenn, Bob Graham (Philip's younger half brother) and Lloyd Bentsen; Representatives Richard Gephardt and Lee Hamilton; and Jackson. Each man was asked to fill in the answers to 50 questions regarding family and finance. By last Monday, the list was down to four: Glenn, Gore, Bentsen and Hamilton. Jackson was eliminated as too dicey.

That night, after a dinner of leftover Italian food, Dukakis fetched his push lawn mower and went outside to cut the grass and clear his mind. Brountas arrived at Dukakis' home about 10:15, and the two of them were joined at the family's round maple kitchen table by Kitty Dukakis, Campaign Manager Susan Estrich and Director of Operations Jack Corrigan.

Over iced tea, coffee and cookies, they ran through the finalists. All had flaws. Glenn? Not enough of a manager. Gore? Hadn't shown enough maturity. Hamilton? Little known and a weak campaigner. Bentsen? The kitchen cabinet discussed his ties to Big Business and oil interests. Had everything been adequately probed, Dukakis asked? Brountas said Bentsen looked him straight in the eye and answered every tough question. In choosing the Texan, Dukakis also saw himself recapitulating the canny political act of the only other presidential candidate born in Brookline.

After making up his mind, Dukakis wanted to act on it. He tried twice that night to reach Bentsen in Washington, but the Senator had turned off the ring on his phone to keep from being awakened by reporters. Dukakis called again at 6:30 the next morning and popped the question. Bentsen turned off his electric razor and said yes. Dukakis decided he would go to his Boston statehouse office before informing anyone else. Thus it was not until after 8:20 that he rang Jackson, who by then was on his way to an airport to fly to Washington. The day before, Jackson had specifically told Brountas that he would be leaving for the airport at 8 a.m. and that he did not want to read who the nominee was in a newspaper.

When Jackson learned of the Bentsen selection from a reporter, he was uncharacteristically silent. This one act seemed to him to symbolize all his complaints about the campaign: that Dukakis had never really considered him for Vice President, that he had never genuinely been consulted or included in the process. At a press conference a few hours later, Jackson began to get even. "I'm too controlled, too mature to be angry," said the clearly angry Jackson. He then suggested that he might allow his name to be placed in nomination for the vice presidency. "The floor is wide open," he said.

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