FOUR months ago he was nobody going nowhere, or so it seemed. Now Paul Tsongas definitely is an important personage after elevating himself to the status of a seriously regarded presidential candidate by virtue of boffo performances on two national TV debates.
Four months ago a rather uptight Mr. Tsongas met with the Monitor breakfast group, made up that morning mainly of reporters drawn more by curiosity than anything else. What we saw was a very earnest, very decent, quite intelligent fellow who had the charisma of a dried apple. We felt a bit sorry for the little guy, while giving him an for guts.
Tsongas has now surged upward in the New Hampshire polls, even as Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton dropped back. Surveys sponsored by the Boston Globe and WBZ-TV last Thursday through Saturday showed the former United States senator virtually pulling even with Gov. Clinton. How does Tsongas explain it?
"Even if I am not photogenic and all those kinds of things," he said, "the average person is going to gravitate to the candidate he thinks is going to rescue this country. That has to be the explanation for what is going on."
Success had loosened up the candidate. Whereas his wry humor had hardly been showing back in September, the other morning he revisited us for breakfast, and he was doing a lot of kidding around. Asked what message a Tsongas victory in New Hampshire would send out to the voters, he replied with a smile: "The message is that if you want to do well in presidential elective politics you have to be a Greek from Massachusetts." After drawing a big laugh, he added: "Everybody else is disqualified."
Here a questioner asked: "Is what you are saying to the voters this: That this country must now face sacrifice and austerity?"