Hart Back in Race for President : Political World Stunned, Gives Him Little Chance

Times Staff Writer

Former Sen. Gary Hart stunned the political world Tuesday by re-entering the race for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination seven months after he angrily quit the campaign over reports that he had spent a night with a Miami model.

"Let's let the people decide," Hart, accompanied by his wife, Lee, and son John, told more than 100 reporters and TV crew members and about 20 cheering supporters gathered on the Statehouse steps. "I'm back in the race."

Moments later, the tanned and smiling Colorado Democrat handed over a $1,000 cashier's check from the United Bank of Denver to the New Hampshire secretary of state and formally filed his candidacy for the first-in-the-nation primary next Feb. 16. The check was signed by Hart and dated Monday. The state filing deadline is Friday.

Unorthodox Strategy

Hart's announcement dumbfounded most political figures and campaign officials here and in Iowa, where the Feb. 8 caucuses are the first major test of the campaign. Most gave Hart little chance of recovering his campaign or his reputation. And the candidate himself acknowledged that his strategy would be, of necessity, unorthodox.

"This will not be like any campaign you have ever seen because I am going directly to the people," Hart said, reading from a statement on a yellow pad under pewter-gray skies.

"I don't have a national headquarters or staff," he continued. "I don't have any money. I don't have pollsters or consultants or media advisers or political endorsements. But I have something even better. I have the power of ideas, and I can govern this country."

'Set of New Ideas'

Hart said he had "a sense of new direction and a set of new ideas" for the campaign. "My policies can be summarized in three words: invest, reform and engage."

In a brief interview, Hart said he had decided over the weekend in Denver to resume his campaign "to keep the issues alive and to provide an alternative" to the six other announced Democratic candidates. "It was a family decision," Lee Hart agreed.

Hart, who beat Walter F. Mondale in the 1984 New Hampshire primary and almost bested him for the nomination, appeared to bask in the cameras and lights once again. He had no immediate schedule, he said. "We're kind of making it up as we go along," he said with a grin.

Hart faces daunting, if not impossible, problems in trying to organize enough support in enough states to file delegate slates before the states' primary deadlines. He said he would file in "as many as possible. It's late, but we'll try."

At least one local television station, WMUR-TV, planned to poll residents overnight to get a sense of how voters now view Hart and his chances, according to David Moore, a pollster at the University of New Hampshire.

"I don't think it's going to change things a lot here," Moore said. "I don't think people will give him serious consideration."

"People are not going to forget," said J. Joseph Grandmaison, chairman of the state Democratic Party. "The question is whether people can look at his personal life in a perspective that doesn't block out everything else."

Only one of Hart's former New Hampshire supporters publicly endorsed him Tuesday. Concord lawyer Ned Helms, who had backed a rival candidate, Sen. Albert Gore Jr., after Hart withdrew in May, signed back up Tuesday.

"I couldn't conceive of working against him," Helms said.

Staying With Babbitt

But Susan Calegari, Hart's 1988 campaign manager until he dropped out, said she was sticking with former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt. "I'm friends with Hart," she said. "It's hard."

Calegari said Hart's 1984 deputy state campaign manager, Susan Casey, had called her from Denver several times in recent weeks to discuss Hart's options. "I think it became the 11th hour because of the filing deadline," she said. "If he was going to reach out to voters, the place was New Hampshire. The time was now or never."

Steve Cancian, a former Hart supporter who now manages the Rev. Jesse Jackson's campaign in the state, said he would not switch. "Hart is a good candidate," he said. "Jackson is a better one."

Pushing through the crush of reporters, Hart and his wife attempted to greet voters on Main Street in Concord, and then at the Pheasant Lane Mall in Nashua. They met a decidedly mixed reception.

'More Guts Than Brains'

"I told him, 'You got more guts than brains,' " said a woman who refused to identify herself at The Capitol Craftsman store. "People don't have that short a memory."

"I think it's sort of a joke," said Kim Matthews, a clerk at a Concord magazine shop called Bookland, after Hart had left. "It's crazy."

"I don't think he should be running," said Everette Holton, a 20-year-old student. "There are enough good candidates."

"He's dead politically," said Paul Thibodeaux, owner of the Art Rug shop. "I'm very disappointed."

Won't Discuss Sex Scandal

Hart refused to answer any questions regarding the sex scandal that sank his front-runner campaign in four heated days last May. He withdrew from the race, all but abandoned by supporters and contributors, after the Miami Herald reported on May 3 that he had spent the night with Miami actress and model Donna Rice in his Washington town house.

Apparently contributing to his decision to quit the race was a request from the Washington Post, several days after the Herald story appeared, for an interview with Hart about evidence that the Post had obtained of a recent liaison Hart had had with a Washington woman, not Rice.

The Post reported Tuesday that the evidence included a detective agency's report of surveillance of Hart from midday Saturday, Dec. 20, until 8 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 21, 1986. The detectives were hired by a man who suspected Hart was having an affair with his wife.

A confidential source gave the report to the Post the day after the Herald's story was printed. The Post was also given two pictures, purportedly taken by the surveillance team that night, showing Hart leaving the town house of the Washington woman and of the woman at her front stoop.

Obtained Hart's Schedule

The Post said it independently obtained Hart's schedule for that Saturday, which coincided with the version in the detective's report, as did a number of other facts. The woman "indirectly confirmed" the relationship on condition that she not be identified, the Post said.

When the Post's request for an interview about the matter was relayed to Hart by his press secretary, Hart reportedly said, "Let's go home," signaling he intended to abandon the race.

In subsequent stories, the Post reported on the relationship but never identified the woman. Post Executive Editor Benjamin C. Bradlee said Tuesday that the Post would continue to withhold the woman's name.

Lee Hart, when asked Tuesday about the issue of her husband's reported liaisons, said she was not concerned. "I don't worry about it," she told reporters. "I don't care what you folks do. Do what you want."

Hart, whose thick hair has begun to gray, wore a navy pin-striped suit, blue-and-white striped shirt and a blue tie covered with the U.S. Senate's eagle emblem. His wife wore a long red woolen coat.

Speculation has persisted since his withdrawal that Hart would re-enter the race, if only to qualify for federal matching funds to help pay off campaign debts, including $1.3 million left over from 1984. In interviews, he insisted he was not a candidate, but he never ruled out the possibility of becoming one again.

'Not Playing Games'

"I'm not running for President," he said in an interview on ABC's "Nightline" in September. "I'm out . . . . I'm not hovering. I'm not playing games."

In his statement Tuesday, Hart said that he was getting back in the race because none of the six Democrats running had adopted his "ideas for a strategic investment economics, military reform and for enlightened engagement."

"If elected, I would want only this for an epitaph: He educated the people," Hart said. He called the decision to re-enter "about the toughest thing that I have ever done."

Hart and his wife flew to Boston Monday night from Denver. Aides began calling local supporters late Monday. About 20 supporters, including several students from Boston area colleges who tried to organize a draft movement in recent weeks, showed up for the announcement. Most were from out of state.

"We just woke up to this," said Dave Nelson, a deputy sheriff in Hyannis, Mass., a leader of one draft-Hart group. "We don't have our marching orders yet."

"I frankly didn't expect him to get back in," said another draft-Hart organizer, Eric Jacobson, a 33-year-old UCLA student. Jacobson flew here overnight from Los Angeles after getting an 8 p.m. call.

Hinted at Decision

Hart has spoken at colleges across the country in recent months. Several supporters said that Hart had hinted of his decision in his most recent appearance at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge on Dec. 2.

"He made the point he was in fact a human being," said Will Hopkins, 38, a carpenter from outside Boston. "He'd made mistakes. He wasn't perfect."

Leaders of rival campaigns here said they were surprised but saw no immediate impact.

"It doesn't change our plans," said Charlie Baker, state director for Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, who has led in polls here. "The issues Mike has been talking about are the issues Sen. Hart made reference to."

In Iowa, Pat Mitchell, a former Hart aide who is Iowa campaign coordinator for Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois, called Hart's decision "self-indulgent."

"He is putting his own interests and whims ahead of the good of the process and the good of the Democratic Party," she said.

Ex-Supporter Shocked

Teresa Vilmain, Hart's former Iowa coordinator and now state campaign director for Dukakis, said she plans to stay with Dukakis, but added: "I don't know if I've ever been this shocked before in all my life."

In Washington, David Dreyer, Hart's former national political director, said he learned of the decision at 2 a.m. from a reporter. Dreyer called the decision "hurtful to himself . . . hurtful to the party (and) hurtful to the issues. . . . It diminishes the stature of the other six candidates."

In Denver, Andrea Hart, 23, acknowledged in a telephone interview that "it might be real optimistic" to believe her father could be elected President. Public ridicule of Hart's painful admission of adultery last spring is inevitable, she said.

"We expect that now," she said. "No one will forget the past. No one will let the public forget the past. There will be rumors flying around that people will take as fact . . . and it's instinctual as a member of the family to fight back when someone you love is hurt. But we have to accept them as just rumors."

If Hart has doubts, he didn't show them Tuesday as he climbed into a yellow Chevrolet Cavalier as snow began to fall in Concord. How can you run without organization, staff or money? a reporter shouted.

"It's going to be interesting, isn't it?" Hart replied with a grin. And then he was gone.

Staff writers James Risen in Detroit, Karen Tumulty in Washington and Tamara Jones in Denver contributed to this report.

Washington's inner circle reacted to the announcement with surprise, anger, cynicism and disbelief. View, Page 1.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
81°