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Monday, November 5, 2012

In the Final Days of the Campaign, Dukakis, 79, Knocks on Doors for Democrats

The former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, center, and his wife, Kitty, talking with Kirk Yanefski, a voter, as the Dukakises canvassed door to door for Elizabeth Warren on Saturday in Quincy, Mass.Katharine Q. Seelye/The New York Times The former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, center, and his wife, Kitty, talking with Kirk Yanefski, a voter, as the Dukakises canvassed door to door for Elizabeth Warren on Saturday in Quincy, Mass.

QUINCY, Mass.â€" Michael Dukakis spent his 79th birthday on Saturday chasing a grown man down the street. The reason? To capture one more vote for Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic candidate for the Senate.

“Hi! I'm former Governor Michael Dukakis,” he yelled out as he ran m ore than a block to catch up with Kirk Yanefski, 80, who was crossing the street. Soon, the two were chatting like old buddies - in Greek - with Mr. Yanefski proudly sharing a faded photo of himself as a pilot in the Yugoslavian army. Mr. Dukakis's wife, Kitty, 75, ambled up slowly behind because she has a broken foot, having tumbled down some stairs five weeks ago, and she is impeded by a clunky boot.

Her injury did not stop Team Dukakis from a full weekend of go-for-broke campaigning for Ms. Warren, who is in a neck-and-neck race with Senator Scott P. Brown. They are a small part of Ms. Warren's battalion of volunteers but they are among the most experienced and the most energetic.

Mr. Dukakis is a big believer in the importance of one-on-one contact at election time. He credits thousands of volunteers who went knocking on doors for him over the years for his successes in elective office.

In Lynn, where Mr. Dukakis address ed the troops on Saturday morning before they went out canvassing, he singled out Agnes Ricko, 75, an experienced party hand who was a precinct captain on his 1970 campaign for lieutenant governor.

“If it weren't for the Agnes Rickos of this world,” he told them, “I couldn't get elected dog catcher.”

She worked in most of his campaigns as he went on to become governor of Massachusetts and his party's standard-bearer for president in 1988. His loss of 40 states that year to George H.W. Bush was rough, but did not diminish his belief in the value of canvassing.

After Lynn, he drove to Newton, where he stood on a table to address volunteers who were preparing to knock on doors for Joe Kennedy III, who is running for Congress. “You represent the best of what politics is all about,” Mr. Dukakis told them.

He spoke to troops again here in Quincy, then began bounding door to door as eagerly as a child at Halloween. He was not always met with trea ts. One man opened his door a crack, saying he was sick. Mr. Dukakis told him he hoped he would vote for Ms. Warren, then could not resist a comment on the fact that the man was smoking.

“Those things will make you sicker, you know,” Mr. Dukakis told him. “I gave up the booze,” the man said, adding that he could not give up cigarettes too.

Many doors went unanswered. Mr. Dukakis would knock and wait, then slip in a Warren flyer.

Behind one door was Zoe Lester, 51, an accountant, who was highly amused at seeing the governor on the other side. She seemed to be a Warren supporter already and joked that his visit would be “a good talking point” when she told her friends.

Mr. Dukakis, who teaches at Northeastern University in Boston and loves mentoring young people, has also been helping fire up the troops who are canvassing for President Obama in New Hampshire. In a phone call to young Obama workers the other day, he offered tips on what to sa y as they went door to door.

And then he blurted out this: “I owe you all an apology,” he said as about 20 young people listened on speakerphone. “If I'd beaten Bush 1, you'd have never heard of Bush 2 and we wouldn't be in this mess, so blame me.”

The volunteers were silent. It was not clear how far back their political memories extended. He sensed the awkwardness and then quickly added: “Have fun! Enjoy it. You're doing the single most important thing we can do to win this election for the president. My hat's off to you.”

Follow Katharine Q. Seelye on Twitter at @kseelye.