CAMPAIGN ’88 0n the outskirts of Milford, a snow-covered mill town in the southeastern corner of New Hampshire, Gary Hart was strolling through the Hendrix Wire and Cable factory last week, intent on waging his grassroots charm offensive. But that morning the automated plant offered few hands for the reborn presidential candidate to shake. As reporters trailed Hart and his wife, Lee, through empty corridors, he seemed to realize that the media—which he had blamed for forcing him out of the race last May after his indiscretions with Miami model Donna Rice—would have nothing to report for that night’s news. Suddenly, as Hart was passing the employees’ gym, his eyes lit up. Doffing his tweed sports jacket—to reveal a belt buckle with his initials GWH in giant-sized brass—he went straight to the bench press. Setting the weights at 145 lb., he lay back and handily raised the machine’s bars. With a boyish grin, he increased the load to 175 lb., then 195. Despite the obvious strain, he reset the weights to a taxing 205 lb. when a sharp voice rang out. “Don’t do it anymore, Gary,” said
Lee Hart. “Quit while you’re ahead.”
With that warning, Hart’s stoic wife of 29 years gave voice to a sentiment that now haunts his resuscitated campaign. As the novelty of his surprise return to the hustings last month wears off, many voters have begun to wonder aloud whether the 51-year-old Hart should have quit while he was aheadstaying out of the 1988 contest for good. The crowds surging around his impromptu campaign stops have already begun to shrink in the state that will hold the nation’s first primary on Feb. 16. And a Gallup poll last week showed that in the Granite State—where Hart has chosen to focus his eleventh-hour blitz—he has already slipped from the front-runner’s post he briefly recaptured when he first rejoined the race. Now, Gov. Michael Dukakis of neighboring Massachusetts, with the support of 39 per cent of the Democrats surveyed, leads Hart by 20 points.
Most New Hampshire voters whom Maclean's interviewed said that they were prepared to forgive Hart his sexual peccadillos. But many continued to question the weakness he had betrayed both in the weight room and on the rented yacht Monkey Business, on which
he sailed to Bimini with Rice—a lack of judgment. “People are just uncomfortable about the whole thing,” said Manchester, N.H., dentist David Stahl. “They feel he shows vast arrogance, and he doesn’t seem to come off as very bright. I don’t think he’s going to cut any ice around here.”
For Democrats in New Hampshire and Iowa—whose Feb. 8 caucus will be the first national test of the race—a key gauge of Hart’s mettle was last Friday’s televised debate in Des Moines. For the first time, Hart joined his six Democratic rivals in a major media exercise. Aware of the importance of that encounter, Hart retreated for two days last week to his log home on a mountain outside Denver—where he has removed the former road sign, which identified the area as Troublesome Gulch—to prepare for the debate. But most critics agreed that his performance was lacklustre. Said Washington Post reporter Paul Taylor: “He did not steal the show.”
The surge of interest in the debate was a boon to Hart’s opponents, who had made no attempt to hide their resentment at his return to the race. “One good thing he has done,” said Democratic
media consultant Robert Squier, who remains unaffiliated with any candidate, “is make a lot more people want to tune in to the debate than might have previously. He has raised the interest level in this election.”
But the major question is whether people initially flocked to Hart’s appearances because of his genuine appeal or his curiosity value. Cartoonists continued to lampoon the candidate—one depicting him as a flasher opening his trench coat, another as a campaigner who was more interested in kissing mothers than babies. And late-night TV talk show host Johnny Carson jested that Hart’s assertion that people were not interested in his private life was like Carmen Miranda asking her audience
not to notice that she was dancing with a bowl of fruit on her head. Said Squier: “In the end, are you going to vote for a dirty joke for president?”
Still, in New Hampshire, whose hardy populace values stubborn Yankee independence and grit, Hart’s so-called guerrilla campaign—with its low budget and army of volunteers—holds special appeal. In Concord, the state capital, his headquarters consists of a oneroom office with four phones. Among his chief organizers is businessman Ned Helms, a longtime Hart supporter who had briefly gone to work for the campaign of Tennessee Senator Albert Gore. And while Vice-President George Bush rumbles down New Hampshire roads with his bulletproof limousine and huge Secret Service motorcade, Hart hops across the state in blithe anonymity in the borrowed 12-year-old van of veteran campaign worker Diane Macomber. Macomber doubles as a driver for Hart, his wife and two aides when
she is not working at her regular job as a court reporter. Hart’s children, Andrea, 23, who organized his campaign headquarters of volunteers in Denver, and son John, 21,who is campaigning for him in New Hampshire, have both bunked at her house. Said Macomber: “I knew how they felt about his candidacy. They wanted him back in.”
As Hart took his campaign on the road through small-town New Hampshire last week, he encountered not a single question from the public about Rice. One reason may be the presence of Lee Hart, who is never far from her husband’s side. Unlike in last year’s campaign, when observers noted that he repeatedly ignored his wife, he introduced her at every turn—even to a New
Hampshire turnpike toll collector—and carefully opened doors for her. Elegant in a satin blouse and black cape as she traipsed gamely through kilometres of steel cable at the Hendrix plant, she was his chief aide—pointing out guest books for him to sign and steering him toward outstretched hands. But some analysts have noted that she is also serving another function. Wrote Boston columnist Ellen Goodman: “Lee Hart has become her husband’s talisman. She is a portable shield against The Question, a living rebuttal to those who would attack him for wife misuse. Who would be so rude as to badger him with questions about Donna Rice in front of Lee?”
In New Hampshire, that discretion has led Hart to describe the reaction to his return as “a reaffirmation of the basic decency and goodness of the American people.” At the Hendrix cable plant, Carol Smith, a 31-year-old supervisor, shook Hart’s hand and shrugged off his past indiscretions. “I wouldn’t
want my husband to do anything like that,” she said. “But it doesn’t have anything to do with his political views or the way he is going to run the country. I personally think he has guts for coming back into the race. What we need in the White House is somebody who is not going to take all the media bullshit, who is not going to let other people push him around.” Agreed materials manager Lloyd Askew, who said that he voted for Ronald Reagan in the past two elections: “Speaking for a man’s point of view, I don’t think he did anything different than any man would do. Not all of us have sterling private lives.”
Those views confirmed the contention of Joseph Grandmaison, state Democratic chairman, that Hart was shrewd in picking New Hampshire to focus his comeback hopes. It was in that state that another maverick, Jimmy Carter, first emerged from the pack in 1976. And Hart also staged his 1984 upset over Walter Móndale there. Said Grandmaison: “New Hampshire’s citizens are a forgiving lot. They like to hear people out.”
How many like what they hear is another question. Hart’s 94page booklet—which sells for 75 cents—sets out his speeches and platform under the title Reform, Hope and the Human Factor: Ideas for National Restructuring. Printed on inexpensive 5 white paper—with, as Hart likes
0 to note, no pictures—it resem| bles an academic pamphlet and E often reads like one, with such
1 headings as “A Strategic Investg ment Initiative.”
And although Hart says that he re-entered the race because no other candidate was dealing with the issues, many in his audiences seem unimpressed with the ideas that he claims are new. His platform centres on military reform—chiefly of conventional forces—more investment in education and a national military or social service for young people. Last week, as he chronicled his positions to the Nashua, N.H., Rotary Club over a chicken stirfry lunch, he drew only polite applause. And his delivery, although glib and easy, seemed uninspired. Said Gerald Nash, a Nashua real estate developer: “If he wants to be president, he has to be a little more dynamic than that.” Clearly, in New Hampshire—as elsewhere in the country—even Hart’s titillating return to the race has failed to give Democratic voters the exciting candidate they were waiting for. Said dentist David Stahl: “I just don’t see any great enthusiasm for Gary Hart—or anyone else. I think people are truly confused.”
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