Visit by Tsongas, events for Harkin buoy Democrats' hopes

November 19, 1991|By C. Fraser Smith B

Democratic presidential hopeful Paul E. Tsongas came to Maryland yesterday and joked that he was responsible for President Bush's slide in the polls.

George Bush had a 91 percent approval rating last March when the former U.S. senator from Massachusetts entered the race for his party's presidential nomination -- but by yesterday the Republican president had slipped to 55 percent.

"I take all the credit," deadpanned the man who dared to enter the race when many thought it would be unwinnable for a Democrat.

Mr. Tsongas swept through Baltimore's Greektown as the man who retired from politics to fight a life-threatening disease and won. Several people in his audience yesterday, including the Rev. Manuel J. Burdusi, said they had read the book he wrote about his struggle with lymphoma, "The Road Home."

On a different road now, Mr. Tsongas regaled his supporters with a steady rain of one-liners, advising them that he has run for office six times and never lost. The 200 or so people who came to meet him yesterday at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church on Ponca Street east of Highlandtown cheered him as if he could win this one as well.

"Nothing is impossible in America," said Maria V. Nicolaidis, an interpreter who lives in Dundalk. She says the 30,000 or so Greek Americans in the Baltimore metropolitan area are proud to have another Greek-American Democrat running for president.

Mr. Tsongas' campaign shared the Maryland stage yesterday with Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, whose backers here participated in nationwide house party fund raising.

Some 1,200 Harkin supporters held parties on the senator's 52ndbirthday. The goal was to raise $300 per party and demonstrate a nationwide organization, according to Dan Rupli, the senator's campaign manager in Maryland.

"I don't think any of the other candidates are capable of doing what we're doing tonight. They don't have the organization . . . or the enthusiasm for the candidate," he said yesterday.

There was plenty of enthusiasm in Greektown for Mr. Tsongas -- and a growing sense that Democrats will be competitive in 1992.

"The Republicans had an opportunity to make things happen for America and they just have not," Ms. Nicolaidis said. "We thought Reagan would turn things around, but we found out he couldn't -- the hard way."

The economy, she said, is making a race out of the 1992 campaign. Everyone feels the pinch, she said.

"I have rental properties. I see people losing their jobs. They leaveand move in with other people because they can't pay the rent," she said.

When Mr. Tsongas described himself as a "traditional liberal Democrat on social issues," the crowd burst into applause.

"On economic issues, he said, "I'm aggressively pro-private sector."

In a room filled with green and white campaign signs, Mr. Tsongas needled President Bush for his frequent trips in pursuit of foreign policy objectives.

"His staff did a study and they found that if he took one more trip he'd be an immigrant. He wouldn't be qualified to be president," Mr.Tsongas said.

In his campaign pamphlet, "A Call to Economic Arms," the former senator from Lowell, Mass., says, "America is greatness. America is not the casual acceptance of economic decline and social disintegration. . . . Once the world's greatest economic power we are selling off our national patrimony as we sink ever deeper into national debt."

The words come bound in a plain gray paper binding -- not the color Mr. Tsongas wants for himself. He has acknowledged that his tasks include shaking the image left by the defeat four years ago of former Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis.

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