Dismiss His Revived Candidacy as Media Event : Democratic Rivals Criticize Hart

Times Staff Writer

Democratic presidential candidates, still smarting from Gary Hart’s surprising re-entry into the 1988 race, lashed out at his born-again candidacy Sunday, dismissing it as a media event and criticizing Hart for distracting attention from the campaign’s major issues.

Polls showing Hart leading the field of Democratic contenders are “meaningless,” said Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, who predicted that voters would indicate their real preferences when they vote early next year in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

During appearances on network television shows, Dukakis, Illinois Sen. Paul Simon and the Rev. Jesse Jackson said Hart would fade in popularity once the novelty has worn off his revived campaign. Still, they appeared concerned by the most recent public opinion samplings.

29% of Iowans Back Hart

In a telephone poll released Sunday, for example, the Des Moines Register reported that Hart had the support of 29% of those surveyed in Iowa, followed by Simon with 18%. Before Hart’s re-entry, Simon had been leading the field with 35% support in Iowa.

Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said they would not hold a candidate’s extramarital affairs against him, a reference to the revelations that Hart spent a weekend last May with Miami model Donna Rice. The negative publicity caused the former Colorado senator to quit the race several days later.


Still, Iowa voters expressed concern over the impact of Hart’s candidacy on the Democratic Party. Nearly 40% said Hart’s re-entry would hurt his party’s chances of recapturing the White House, and only 32% said it would help the Democrats.

Meanwhile, two national polls released over the weekend by Newsweek and the Washington Post showed Hart leading six other Democratic contenders by 31% and 30%, respectively. Jackson ran second in both polls, garnering support from 13% and 20% of those surveyed.

Heavy Media Coverage

Simon, asked to explain his sudden drop in the Iowa poll, said on ABC-TV’s “This Week With David Brinkley” that Hart’s surge was boosted by heavy media coverage and “is not unusual.”

“My instinct is . . . this thing’s going to taper off,” he said, adding that “the voters aren’t asking us about Gary Hart, reporters are.”

The Illinois senator also suggested that Hart’s decision had “detracted . . . from the issues” being debated in the campaign. Simon said, however, that his appearance the previous evening on NBC-TV’s “Saturday Night Live” was “not a trivialization in that it detracted from the issues.”

“You have to get a little exposure,” he said.

Dukakis, who was also interviewed on the Brinkley show, said that during his trips around Iowa and other states, he found “people are not talking about Gary Hart or press coverage,” but major issues in the campaign such as unemployment, agricultural policy and arms control.

Polls Will Be ‘Obsolete’

The polls showing Hart vaulting ahead of the other six candidates will be “obsolete” the day after the Iowa caucuses, Dukakis said, and “only then” will it be clear “where the people of this country are.”

After the first few weeks “of this Hart thing . . . I think we’ll be back in business,” Dukakis added.

Jackson, appearing on CBS-TV’s “Face the Nation,” criticized the media coverage of Hart’s candidacy, saying it has diverted attention from campaign issues and focused instead on the issue of Hart’s character and his motivations for re-entering the race.

Noting that Hart is “now seen as a disruptive force,” Jackson said, “what I resent . . . is this resistance (by the media) to cover matters of substance.” If the media persist in focusing on the “character issue,” he added, it will be a problem mainly for Hart and not the other candidates.

Vice Presidential Choice

Despite their hostility to his revived candidacy, Dukakis and Simon indicated that they would support Hart if he wins the Democratic presidential nomination, something they both said was highly unlikely.

In another campaign development, Jackson said that if he wins the nomination he is “considering” offering the vice presidential nod to House Speaker Jim Wright of Texas. The Speaker has impressed him as a man “who has grown in the job” and displayed “a sense of humanity on jobs issues and in foreign policy.”

Wright, through a spokesman, said he was flattered by the thought, but added that he enjoys his work and prefers to remain in the House.