Walter Mondale’s campaign plane had been hurtling across the South all day as the former vice-president chased votes for the upcoming primaries. Between appearances in Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville, Fla., Atlanta, Ga., Muscle Shoals and Birmingham, Ala., two young flight attendants offered Mondale, his staff and the travelling press corps nonstop smiles and trays of wine, cheese and full-course meals. But when the plane landed in Birmingham for an airport rally, the two women ran excitedly down the corridor to the far end of the terminal, where Senator Gary Hart was also stumping for votes. Explained one: “We’re from out West and we’re backing Hart.”
In more than a dozen primaries and caucuses held across the country so far, Hart’s bid to win the Democratic presidential nomination has drawn broad support from like-minded young, urban professionals (Yuppies), but Mondale has claimed more delegates: 629, compared to 357 for Hart. As a rule, Yuppies are white, upwardly mobile, well educated and under 40—the baby-boom generation come of age. Many are committed Democrats, but just as many are independents who supported John Anderson’s failed candidacy in 1980 or even President Ronald Reagan.
Now, disappointed with Reagan and uncertain about Mondale, the Yuppies
see Hart as the new apostle of their ambitions. For many, the memories of Vietnam are still vivid, and they respond positively to Hart’s pledge to pull U.S. forces out of Central America,the Middle East and other trouble spots.
But the question that haunts the Hart campaign is whether the Yuppies have enough political energy—and interest—to stay on side. Last week, de-
spite their votes, Hart lost the crucial Illinois primary to Mondale by six percentage points. Although Rev. Jesse Jackson captured fully 70 per cent of the black votes in Illinois, Mondale won the remainder—enough to claim victory in the most important primary to date. Hart also lost precinct caucuses in Minnesota, Mondale’s home state. The Illinois result was particularly instructive because only days before the vote Hart had held a substantial 13-point lead in the polls. “In five days,” said Mondale campaign director James Johnson, “we had something like a 19-point shift.”
Political experts blamed part of that slip on Hart’s campaign gaffes. He falsely accused Mondale of running a negative TV commercial, then aired a negative commercial of his own—even after he claimed that it had been withdrawn. But Hart’s decline was also due to the basic softness of his support. The Yuppies prefer Hart but they are not as deeply committed to him as Mondale’s core constituencies—labor and senior citizens—are to their candidate.
Campaign volunteers believe the fault is not in the candidate but in the system. “I am not a political expert,” said one envelope stuffer at Hart’s Washington, D.C., campaign headquarters last week. “But things are just happening too fast. For a long time in Illinois we had just one state co-ordinator. Then, in a matter of days, we had 10.” At that pace, organizational miscues are inevitable.
Another problem is communicating Hart’s message to the voters. His campaign has relied principally on TV ads, local interview shows and the evening news. None of them, officials concede, adequately presents a detailed discussion of the issues. Hart’s staff has developed comprehensive position papers on a wide range of topics, but most voters know almost nothing about them.
When the voters do get to know Hart, Yuppies insist, they will find him appealing. Said San Francisco political consultant Drexel Sprecher: “Gary Hart is the first candidate I have seen who has a sense of how to use government to support the development of a self-generating society. We cannot continue to respond to problems by repairing them one at a time. Hart is the only one who seems to have thought about that.”
Yuppies concede that, after Illinois, illusions of an unimpeded Hart sprint to the nomination have faded. Hart, too, has retreated from earlier predictions of locking up the nomination before the July convention. Last week, campaigning for upcoming primaries in New York and Connecticut, he called the race a “marathon” that would likely stretch out through July.
Mondale’s remarkable recovery and Hart’s loss of momentum make the April 3 New York primary—with 285 convention delegates at stake—vital for both. Móndale has endorsements from Gov. Mario Cuomo, New York City Mayor Ed Koch and Senator Daniel Moynihan. But he faces financial problems, having overspent in earlier contests. Hart, as he has elsewhere, is running against the party’s establishment, using an estimated $250,000 in TV time. Both candidates are pitching strongly to New York’s Jewish vote—one-third of the Democratic electorate. In the manner of former Conservative leader Joe Clark, Hart last week vowed to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv, where the majority of foreign missions are based, to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital. Previously, Hart had suggested that such a shift should be part of a negotiated settlement in the area. Mondale staffers were quick to indict Hart for another flip-flop, but Hart insisted, “The commitment to move the embassy has always been there.”
Whatever Hart’s appeal to Jewish voters, he will find New York a difficult challenge. There are more registered Democrats, more union members, more senior citizens and more ethnic groups—another Mondale constituency—than in any other state in the union. Hart has wooed and won the Yuppies, but there may not be enough of them to make a difference.
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