In Pleasant Grove, a seedy neighborhood on the city's east side, the grove is long gone, and there's nothing particularly pleasant about what's left.

But in 1988, Pleasant Grove and places like it could be Michael Dukakis' key to the White House.Pleasant Grove went for Ronald Reagan in 1984, and it is one of the 50 swing precincts in Dallas County that the Democratic Party has targeted to bring home to the Democratic fold in 1988.

"These are the folks who abandoned us in '84," said Sandy Kress, Dallas County Democratic chairman.

While Pleasant Grove is blue-collar and traditionally Democratic, "We only got about 45 percent here" for Walter Mondale, he said. "We need to get 50 or 55 percent this time."

The way Kress figures it, if Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis can recapture Pleasant Grove and similar precincts, he may be able to pull off a win in Dallas County - no mean feat. And if Dukakis can win in Dallas County, Kress says, he can carry the state, and if he carries Texas, Dukakis can win it all.

That's the grand plan, and Kress knows Dallas is a long shot. Republicans are Goliaths in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, which the GOP honored with its 1984 convention. Even in 1976, when Texas went for Jimmy Carter, Dallas County voted for Gerald Ford.

The first step is Pleasant Grove.

Buckner Boulevard, Pleasant Grove's main thoroughfare, is a seemingly endless string of used-car lots where the lure is "We Tote the Note" and "Your Job is Your Credit."

The population is predominately white working class with large segments of black and Hispanic residents.

It is only minutes at typical breakneck freeway speed from the glittering Dallas of J.R. Ewing. But despite the talk that Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, can bag Big Oil in Texas and the middle and upper-middle class in the South for Dukakis, the Democrats are writing off J.R. Ewing's Dallas to Vice President George Bush.

Bentsen is helpful, however, with "Reagan Democrats" in Texas and across the South, Kress said. These voters see Bentsen's presence as a sign that Dukakis is not quite the card-carrying liberal the Republicans are painting.

With 29 electoral votes - the third largest after California and New York - Texas is a star in the presidential galaxy. Both Bentsen's presence on the Democratic ticket and the Republicans' choice of Texas Sen. Phil Gramm to make the speech introducing Bush at the GOP convention attest to the state's clout.

To win Texas, the Democrats are going back to their traditional base - blue-collar urban voters, rural whites, blacks and Hispanics, and the poor.

"I feel better about this election than any since at least '76 and probably '64," Kress said. "There's a quiet feeling that we might carry the county. That seems unbelievable. But we've done a substantial amount of Democratic Party polling that suggests Dukakis is doing well here, better than we expected.

"It's pleasantly baffling to us."