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What Dukakis must do

NOW comes the hard part. After listening to the accolades of speaker after speaker in Atlanta, after Jesse Jackson tardily swung in behind him, after Lloyd Bentsen took his place by his side, after he watched the spectacle of placards pumping up and down before him on the Omni floor, Michael Dukakis will have to let it all fade. He will have to focus on the next phase of his campaign. Some suggestions:

Avoid simple partisanship. True, Mr. Dukakis must motivate party members who will have to carry the campaign. But Dukakis must also set out on a path where, in a good contest, rival George Bush will join him. In a sense, it does not matter to voters whether a candidate is a Republican or a Democrat. The important issues are essentially nonpartisan. Americans are pragmatic. They will be trying to assess how Dukakis and Mr. Bush would handle new problems as they arose.

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Remember foreign policy. American elections are not usually fought on foreign policy issues - except in rare cases like the Vietnam war. But the next president will have to manage, among other things, United States relations with the Soviet Union - a doddering superpower trying to find the fountain of economic youth. Dukakis, even more than Bush, will be sized up for his vision of America's moral, economic, and military strength that will keep Moscow from trying to bully the world.

Concerning Central America, he should say how he intends to give that part of the world room to develop its own version of democracy - without Washington's leaning so heavily on the region that its self-confidence is destroyed.

Keep in touch. Dukakis must keep a conversation going with the American people. This gets harder with each step toward the White House. The Secret Service closes in on the surviving presidential contenders with ever-tightening rings of security as they progress from candidate to convention winner to fall campaigner. Conversations must work two ways: Dukakis must show he will stay available to the American people, able to listen as well as speak.

Talk plainly. When he does speak, Dukakis should remember that Americans do not know as much about him as they do George Bush. They perceive a self-assurance in Dukakis, but he does not want that to start coming across as cockiness. Americans like leaders they can look up to; they also want them to be ``one of them.''

Remember the family. Americans want to know how his administration's policy investments will affect their daily lives. Economic issues should stress hope, growth, the positive times that lie ahead, and not just dwell heavily on negatives like dead-end jobs.

Prepare for the big test. It happens in every campaign: Some event, a foreign policy challenge, a sharp exchange in a debate, will give a flash of insight into the candidates' character. The jolt could come to the American people at large, in the form of some compelling event in the news, or to the candidates themselves. Just be prepared to quietly step up to the test.

Enjoy yourself. A president should not himself be a source of worry and stress. Have confidence in the American people and the electoral process. Ronald Reagan, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, FDR, showed a delight in their role. It was a source of their confidence.

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To the American public looking on, how a candidate starts a campaign signals how he will govern.

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