"Thank you for calling the Gary Hart campaign. We're out nailing down the last few votes for our massive victory that we project now on Tuesday. If you leave your name and number, we'll call you just as soon as we get back, but we're really busy now."
Thus jested the answering machine at former Sen. Gary Hart's Boston headquarters, one of several Massachusetts campaign offices that was less than bustling on the weekend before Super Tuesday. This is the Duke's state, and most candidates seem willing to let the Duke have his day.
So while Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis put the finishing touches on his Southern campaign this weekend, most of his rivals for the Democratic nomination chose to cut their losses by avoiding the popular governor's own state.
Massachusetts is especially risky ground for Democratic intruders because state primary rules allot delegates to candidates only if they win 15 percent or more of the vote. Those who fail to meet that threshold will have nothing to show for whatever effort they invest in the state. And local Democrats say the governor's lead is prohibitive, leaving them with little to do, and rivals with little hope.
For once in a Massachusetts primary, the underdog Republicans can claim that the real battle is in their party. Democratic primaries often decide elections in this state. But this time the Democratic contest is all but over, while Vice President George Bush and Sen. Robert Dole (R.-Kan.) are competing relatively hard for delegates here.
Nancy Carter, a staff member of the GOP State Committee, says she expects a large turn-out from Independents as well as Republicans. "You have to watch out for Independents because many of them think our way but they want their independent status." She predicts a victory for Bush, saying that of all the Republicans, he has put the most money and personal appearances into the state.
But Dole field director Steve Silveira claims the best Republican organization in the state. "The other campaigns have not been visibly active," he says. "I don't know anybody who's received literature or been called by another campaign."
"People will be doing the live signage at choke points around the state," says Dole staffer Rick Stanco. In translation, that means that bunches of half a dozen Dole supporters are scheduled to display the candidate's placards along crowded highways like Routes 128 and 93.
Stanco, who directs the student campaign effort, claimed campus organizations with a "diverse" membership of nearly 600. But Stanco added that diversity means a healthy variety of moderates.
Silveira says he is counting on many Independents and even Democrats to vote for Dole in the primary.
"There's two schools of thought" among Massachusetts voters, he adds. "One is that it's a complete waste of time to vote with the Democrats... The other line of thinking is, "Let's go out for the hometown boy and give him a big vote."
Nevertheless, he calls the Republican primary "the only real race in town."
Dukakis' last major campaign appearance in Massachusetts was last Tuesday, when he swung through North Cambridge and other parts of the solidly Democratic Eighth Congressional District. Since then, the governor has been airborne, stopping in the Super Tuesday states of Texas, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Maryland, and even touring the West Coast.
"The Duke's been low-keying it," says Harlan Jones, a member of the Jackson campaign staff. Cambridge City Councillors reached over the weekend verified his comment. Several said they were mostly occupied with their own campaigns for membership on the city ward committees, which will also be chosen tomorrow.
"I'm supporting President... um...Governor Dukakis," says Councillor Sheila Russell of North Cambridge.