DEERFIELD BEACH, FLA., FEB. 25 -- A perturbed Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis struck back at Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) today, calling him a "flip-flopper" and a "prince of darkness," as the "Super Tuesday" battle for delegate-rich Florida heated up.

Gephardt, who Wednesday accused Dukakis and Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.) of conducting evasive and issueless campaigns, refused to be drawn into a face-to-face confrontation with him during a joint appearance here.

But he later told reporters that Dukakis was trying to turn the race for the Democratic presidential nomination into a high school "name-calling contest."

"If you look back at the governor's campaigns, any time his stands on issues are challenged, he resorts to name-calling," Gephardt said.

The fireworks occurred as the two Democratic front-runners joined in the heart of south Florida's "condo belt" for a presidential forum on long-term health care, an important issue for the state's huge population of retirees.

The candidates found little to disagree about on the subject of the forum. Both endorsed a bill proposed by Rep. Claude Pepper (D-Fla.) that would provide long-term care to chronically ill elderly and disabled people, and they used the televised forum to accuse Republicans of being insensitive to senior citizens' needs.

But Dukakis tried to lure Gephardt into a public fight by pointedly attacking him. When the forum moderator, television newsman George Herman, suggested that Dukakis had changed his position on the Pepper bill, for example, Dukakis pointed at Gephardt, saying, "There's a flip-flopper over here. I'm not a flip-flopper or a back-flopper."

Later, he said an oil import tax supported by Gephardt was a "very regressive tax" that "particularly hits senior citizens who are struggling to make it."

Gephardt ignored the attacks because, he said later, he considered the event "a joint appearance," not a "back-and-forth debate."

Dukakis was more sharp-tongued when he spoke to reporters. "Have I ever changed my mind? Sure. But not every day," he said. "I've never said one month 'I am against Reaganomics,' and the next month 'I'm proud of it.' . . . There's something to be said for consistency, sticking to your positions, not bouncing around."

"People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones," he said at one point. At another, he said. "You can't beat up on the establishment, and go out and take corporate PAC {political action committee} contributions."

What set him off was a speech Gephardt delivered Wednesday that portrayed Dukakis an evasive "Yuppie" candidate supported by establishment "elites" and editorial writers, whose "experience in foreign policy consists almost entirely of negotiating with the governor of New Hampshire."

At a news conference before today's forum, Dukakis accused Gephardt of damaging the Democratic Party through the speech, and he warned that Gephardt would be in for a tough fight if he continues such attacks.

"If we copy the Republicans, if Gore and Gephardt go after each other like Bush and Dole have been doing, it will hurt the Democratic Party," he said. "I have been in negative campaigns before and I know what to do. . . . {But} I don't think this 'prince of darkness' routine will sell."

As for being a Yuppie favorite, Dukakis said he beat Gephardt by a 2 1/2-to-1 margin in the New Hampshire primary, and "I carried the Iron Range in Minnesota, one of the most depressed parts of this country."

He also said he has a record of creating good jobs "not just talk."

Gephardt said his speech, delivered Wednesday in Waco, Tex., was not like Dukakis' "name-calling" because it contrasted positions on issues. "We have legitimate disagreements on issues and they should be laid out," he said.

"Rather than turning this {campaign} into some kind of high school contest, or name-calling contest . . . we ought to be talking about issues," he said.