He has no money, no headquarters and no staff. But last Tuesday, standing outside the state house at Concord, N.H., Gary Hart declared that he was “back in the race” for the Democratic presidential nomination. Seven months after his withdrawal from the campaign in a scandal over his liaison with Miami model Donna Rice, the 51-year-old former Colorado senator said that he was taking his campaign directly to the American people. With his wife, Lee, at his side, Hart said that he had returned to the fray because “I have a set of new ideas that our country needs, that no one else represents.” He added, “Let’s let the people decide.”
His decision clearly confused and angered some Democrats. Said West Virginia’s Robert Byrd, the party’s leader in the Senate: “It’s a crazy old world, isn’t it?” Others expressed concern that, with the failure of the other six Democratic hopefuls to make a major impression, Hart’s return would further splinter the Democratic vote and ultimately help the Republicans win in 1988. Said Harrison Hickman, a Democratic political consultant: “We’ve got a national Gong Show anyway, and here’s one more guy in a funny suit coming on the stage. I feel insulted by it.”
Hart faces formidable obstacles. After his withdrawal last spring his campaign workers dispersed, many of them to rival camps, and few of them were expected to return. As well, he has a crippling debt problem. Although experts predicted that Hart’s renewed campaign will qualify for about $1.3 million in federal matching funds, they pointed out that none of that money can be used to pay off the $1.4 million still outstanding from his unsuccessful 1984 campaign.
Meanwhile, poll results revealed mixed public reaction to Hart’s return. A survey of 505 people taken for ABC News after his comeback placed him as the Democratic front-runner, as he was before he quit, with 28 per cent of Democratic respondents supporting him, against 22 per cent for Rev. Jesse Jackson. But 49 per cent of all those
polled expressed an unfavorable view of Hart, and 39 per cent said that they would not vote for him under any circumstances.
Hart’s most difficult challenge may lie in leaving behind his highly publicized affair with Rice. Vowing not to answer questions about his private life, he received support from an unexpected quarter—Nancy Reagan. In a White House interview with The Associated Press, the First Lady agreed
with Hart that the focus on candidates’ private lives had become so intrusive that it was now “awfully hard for good people to go into politics.”
In his statement, Hart made it clear that he would try to keep the campaign focused on the issues. His three top priorities: eliminating the threat of nuclear destruction, “building the best educational system in the world,” and solving the problem of the $148billion U.S. deficit. Still, a good deal of skepticism remained. Said William Schneider, a political analyst with the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, after the announcement: “What we are waiting to see is if he’s going to become a front-runner again, which is possible, or a pathetic, lonely figure everyone heaps scorn on.” As Hart said, the American people will decide.
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