NEW YORK, NOV. 12 -- New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, who has promised that he "will never say anything negative" about any of the Democratic presidential hopefuls, has managed to stir the presidential pot in his home state simply by the way he has rationed his positive comments.

The result has been a sudden boost for Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) and an equivalent setback for Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis in the early jockeying for political support in a state that will send the second-largest delegation to the Democratic National Convention next summer.

But most of all, Cuomo's tilt toward Simon has thrown just about everyone off-balance. Will he endorse Simon? Is he merely sending a signal to his presumed favorite, Dukakis, to shape up? Or is he interested in stretching out the confusion, hoping that no one breaks out of the Democratic pack next year and that the demand for a draft -- a Cuomo draft -- follows?

Cuomo dismisses such speculation as "nonsense." He also scrupulously avoids ruling out a draft. He restated his position tonight in an interview on "NBC's Nightly News."

"If forces would by accident or whatever say, 'Mario, this is your obligation; you must do it,' of course I would do it," Cuomo said. "But that's not going to happen." He also ruled out entering primaries.

But Cuomo remains his party's busiest and most celebrated noncandidate -- traveling widely in this country, visiting the Soviet Union, preparing for a trip to Mexico, planning to host a Republican presidential debate in Iowa in January.

Everything he says about the candidates is intensely scrutinized. And last week, when he went out of his way to praise Simon in an interview in The New York Times, he altered the state's political landscape.

Until then, it had been widely assumed that if he endorsed anyone, Cuomo would support his fellow ethnic northeastern governor, Dukakis.

"I think that was the presumption on Dukakis' part. And I think the governor {Cuomo} wanted to put him in his place," said Brian Lunde, Simon's campaign manager. Lunde said he was recently alerted by a Cuomo aide that "something good" would be coming up. The following Thursday the Times interview appeared, in which Cuomo said Simon "looks strong" and that Cuomo feels "great empathy with him."

The pace of ticket sales to a December Simon fund-raiser here immediately "went way up," according to his state finance director, Nancy Kuhn. Meantime, while Cuomo denied he had meant to send a signal to Dukakis, his aides spread the word among journalists that Cuomo was, indeed, disappointed with Dukakis' failure to "broaden the scope" of his economic message.

Today, Dukakis addressed 500 New York Democrats at a forum here sponsored by Cuomo and gave a speech laced with Cuomo's pet themes -- the interconnectedness of Third World debt, the value of the dollar, trade and fiscal policy. He also reiterated his support for Cuomo's pet project, a National Commission on the Economy, a blue-ribbon bipartisan group that would make recommendations on fiscal and monetary policy.

Cuomo said nice things in introducing Dukakis, as he has in introducing all of the candidates who have appeared at similar forums this year. The two had a private lunch beforehand. Dukakis said afterward he hoped to get Cuomo's endorsment but, "If I weren't a candidate, I wouldn't be ready to endorse yet either."

Next week Simon is scheduled to address a Cuomo forum. And all six Democratic candidates are to appear on Dec. 10. Cuomo has not said whether or when he will endorse one of them -- though his aides hint that it will come late in the process -- if at all.

Meantime, Cuomo's every move is being analyzed. One of Simon's supporters here, Manhattan Assemblyman Mark Siegel, said he thinks the governor "was simply trying to use his position in the party to raise the intellectual level of the race. He's doing what a person in his position should do."

Of Cuomo's ambitions, he said: "He believes in destiny and if it is his fate to be president, it will come to pass," Siegel said. He added, "I think he also understands that the public is fed up with the seekers and may want the sought."