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Dukakis: Obama better prepared for GOP assault than I was

  • Story Highlights
  • Michael Dukakis won't endorse, but calls Barack Obama likely Democratic nominee
  • Dukakis, Democrats' 1988 nominee, calls on party to organize at precinct level
  • He says Obama more prepared than he was for Republicans' rough campaign
  • Dukakis advises careful, detailed process to choose running mate
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(CNN) -- Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic nominee for president and former Massachusetts governor, appeared on CNN's "Larry King Live" on Wednesday night, joining substitute host John King to talk about what the Democrats need to do to win the presidency in November. Some highlights:

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On "Larry King Live," Michael Dukakis talks about his campaign in 1988 and what faces this year's nominee.

John King: Sen. [John] Edwards jumped into the fray today with that endorsement [of Barack Obama]. How about Gov. Dukakis?

Michael Dukakis: Well, I made a decision I wasn't going to endorse. I like both of these candidates [Sens. Hillary Clinton and Obama] and I think they're both terrific. And they're each pioneers in their own way, as we both know.

My self-appointed role, for whatever it's worth -- and it may be worth nothing -- is to try to get this party of mine to get serious about organizing every one of the 200,000 precincts in the United States of America and stop buying into this red -blue nonsense, which is nonsense.

And that's what I hope I can persuade my fellow Democrats to do. We've got to organize at the precinct level. We haven't done it. I didn't do it very well. We haven't done it, really, since John Kennedy ran for the presidency. And if we're going to win this thing, that's what we have to do.

So those folks in West Virginia who really don't know Barack Obama have people who live in their communities, vote in their communities, talk and walk like them, knocking on their doors and bringing the message directly to them. We haven't done that in a long, long time.

King: Do you assume Barack Obama will be the nominee, even though you're not endorsing, based on the math?

Dukakis: I don't think you can assume anything. But unless something happens in the course of the next two or three weeks that really comes out of the blue, I mean, it seems to me that he's the likely nominee.

King: You left Atlanta and the [1988] convention with a 17-point lead in the national polls. And you know what happened after that convention. And the Republicans say they will do it this year to Barack Obama. They say, when they are done with him, they will convince the American people he is more liberal than George McGovern, more liberal than Walter Mondale and more liberal, yes, sir, than Michael Dukakis.

And they say when you look at his record on crime, when you look at his record on taxes, when you look at his record when it comes to same-sex marriage or on abortion rights, that they can push him to the left of center far enough so that what happened to you will happen to him.

Do you think they can do that? What would your advice be for Barack Obama?

Dukakis: Well, they're certainly going to try. I mean it's already begun, John. They got the guy that did the Willie Horton ad on me to do this outrageous ad in the state of North Carolina. John McCain deplored it, asked them to take it off and they didn't take it off. Video Watch Dukakis discuss Republican campaign tactics »

Now, nobody is going to tell me that if John McCain wants the Republican Party in North Carolina to take an ad off the air, he can't do it. I mean, if he can't do it, he shouldn't be running for the presidency.

So it's already begun. But if you listen carefully to Sen. Obama in his victory speech after the North Carolina primary, it's quite obvious that he and the people around him know what's about to happen and they're ready for it.

I wasn't. I made, as you know, a deliberate decision. It was my decision and nobody else's -- it turned out to be a terrible decision -- that I would not respond to the Bush attack campaign. Clearly, we cannot do that. He's not going to do that.

King: One of the things they say they would use against Barack Obama, perhaps, is his 20-year attendance at a church with a pastor who has given some rather provocative lectures and sermons, some of which can easily be interpreted, at least the snippets of them, as anti-American.

Is that fair game?

Dukakis: Well, I don't think it's fair game. But I don't think it's ever troubled the Republican Party when it comes to fair game.

I mean in -- four years ago, they went after a genuine war hero and tried to turn him into somebody who either had faked his record or whatever, while the president of the United States was sitting in Alabama reading magazines and the vice president of the United States had done everything he could to avoid service in Vietnam. And we've seen this many, many times.

But I think it's very clear that Sen. Obama knows what's going to be hitting him, already does, and I think will be prepared.

King: Would you recommend that Barack Obama pick Hillary Clinton [as a running mate]? Would that be a ticket that you think would win the White House?

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Dukakis: I don't think anybody can tell you exactly who his running mate ought to be. What he's got to do -- and it was one of the few things that I did right in 1988 -- what he's got to do is go through a very careful process of looking at all of the potential candidates for vice president. And if he does it right -- and it's hard to describe this, John -- but if you do it right, it inevitably leads to the right choice.

We went through a very, very sound, detailed process. And when it was all over, it was clear that Lloyd Bentsen was my running mate. And, by the way, he was a terrific running mate. And if I had done a better job of running myself in that final, I think Lloyd Bentsen could have made the difference.

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