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Gary Hart: Campaignus Interruptus

The fall and rise and fall of a candidate

Gary Hart

Reporters and photographers wait at the gate to Gary Hart's house hoping to catch a glimpse, May 8th, 1987

Lyn Alweis/The Denver Post/Getty

GARY HART STANDS FUNNY. Perhaps It’s the Thick Heels of the black cowboy boots he wears even with his suits; maybe it’s just the way his broad shoulders sit atop his otherwise bony frame. But his stiff, slightly forward tilt makes his tweed jacker look like it’s still on a hanger. Even during semicasual moments, he seems tightly wound; if the ever-buttoned jacket came undone, it might release a torrent of frustration and bile.

And here he stands, presidentil wanna-be Gary Hart, wolfing down a dreary-looking chicken concoction from a Styofoam plate, watching the NFC championship on a TV in an Atlanta airport bar, mumbling asides about quarterbacks to his wife, Lee. It’s January 17th, and the former Colorado senator is on a brief Southern swing to generate support for Super Tuesday, the multi-state primary to be held on March 8th. Though the other people in the bar clearly recognize Hart from TV (or at least from the National Enquirer), no one comes near, not even the dozen reporters who are on his trail: Hart’s stance radiates unapproachability.

Hart stares up at the bar’s TV screen as a Viking receiver puts a fake on the Redskin defense and cruises alone into the end zone. “He was wide open.”

Gary Hart often repeats phrases this way for emphasis, dully, like a mantra. On Nightline, discussing the dalliance with model Donna Rice that chased him from the race last May 8th, he said, “I shouldn’t have been in that situation. I should not have been in that situation.” On 60 Minutes, he said of his supporters, “I let them down. I let them down.” He called the months after his dropping out from the race the “worst period of my life. Worst period of my life. Worst period of my life.”

Hart himself was once wide open in the political end zone. This was going to be the year he proved everyone wrong. The guerrilla who had piloted George Mc-Govern’s insurgent run in 1972 and had never played the political game was going to be elected president on his own terms. With no special-interest money and a reclusive, off-putting personality, he’d gotten far on pure ideas, and when he announced his candidacy, in April 1987, he was already the front-runner. But Hart foreshadowed the performance of his home team, the Denver Broncos, in the 1988 Super Bowl: after looking good in the opening set of downs, he was quickly smothered by Washington.

For many observers inside Washington’s Beltway, Hart’s comeuppance was simply a matter of time. “Everyone thought Hart was weird,” says Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen. “Define it how you want. We don’t know how to write that … so you wait for the incident.” The press didn’t care much about Hart’s sexual behavior; indeed, the press would have preferred any other kind of incident. What was ultimately uncovered, however, was not some insignificant, spontaneous fling but two planned weekends of monkey business for which Hart took time out from an indebted campaign. The episodes confirmed suspicions raised in 1984 when Hart cracked an anti-New Jersey joke just before the crucial New Jersey primary. Hart was too reckless, too self-destructive, not the kind of guy to be entrusted with the presidency.

But because the story involved sex, marriage and privacy, it became divisive instead of conclusive. In a year of foggy debate about budget balancing and trade deficits, Gary Hart unwittingly stumbled onto issues that could polarize the nation the way Vietnam, civil rights and Watergate once had: the intrusion of the press into private life, the slick commercialism of politics, open marriage – and most of all, the right to be forgiven.

So, defying many of his close advisers, Hart returned to the race on December 15th, demanding that the Democrats and the press “let the people decide.” It was a decision born out of denial, hubris and need: Hart was a campaign shark who’d die if he stopped swimming. He was too politically savvy to think he’d win the nomination; more likely he merely wanted to stop being known as the guy who dropped out because he dropped his pants.

The polls immediately placed Hart ahead of the six candidates who had been toiling throughout his sevenmonth sabbatical – but the polls also assigned him a whopping negative rating. Lee Hart told one reporter, “If the negatives are on Gary’s policies, we’re in trouble, but if they’re on Rice, maybe we can drive them down.”

With Lee surgically attached to his side, Hart began tirelessly beating a warpath through the earlyprimary states, brandishing “the bible,” his ninety-four-page campaign booklet – mostly a compendium of his long-winded speeches. He refused to buckle despite his steady decline in the polls, despite the fact that the press hovered like vultures and despite the fact that the people who approached him in shopping malls wanted autographs, not ideas.

In “88B” (that’s what Hart’s small, intensely dedicated staff called the resuscitated campaign) the issues inexorably mutated from presidential to personal. During an interview with Time magazine, Hart began to cry. “I don’t weep for myself,” he said. “I weep for this country.”

“One of the reasons I worked for him,” says David Dreyer, who worked for Hart in the Senate and as issues director for 88A, “was that he was the locus for a kind of moral optimism that subordinated individual interest to the national.” Dreyer, who now works for House Majority Whip Tony Coelho but still occasionally advises Hart, says Hart “can no longer carry that message, because he’s become a figure of pity, negativism, victimization and to some extent self-indulgence. When people are constantly being reminded of Bimini, he can’t speak of self-sacrifice.”

In the Atlanta airport bar, Hart seems fed up with such attempts at analysis. “I know [your editors] want you to send back what everybody else is sending back,” he says. “There’s too much psycho-babble going on about what kind of campaign I do best in. There’s this pseudotheory that I feel more comfortable as the outsider. I feel basically the same. I’m more comfortable with this: being back in the race. It was a good decision, the right decision.”

The psycho-babble is just one of many burdens Gary Hart has to bear as he drags 88B to its inevitable conclusion. There are also the ubiquitous taunting photos from Bimini, the jokes (Johnny Carson delivered twenty-six in January alone), the humiliating questions, the awkward interactions, the omnipresent and slighrly dotty wife, the bemused ogling and the undeniable fact that “the people” have, in fact, decided and want little to do with Gary Hart. A few days aboard 88B prove that it’s a hell of a campaign.

January 14th: Iowa 

“I CAME BY THIS MORNING AND DIDN’T EVEN KNOCK on the door,” a radio reporter is telling Hart’s chief Iowa worker, twenty-three-year-old Paul Weissman. “I thought this couldn’t possibly be the place. Why are you here?”

“It’s convenient,” replies Weissman. “Close to fast food. Plus, we can live upstairs.”

Weissman, a brash, lanky kid, surveys his surroundings, a dilapidated house on the outskirts of Des Moines that, for $475, will serve for one month as Hart’s Iowa office. Most of the presidential candidates’ offices are downtown in shiny storefronts; here, a broken window has been covered with plywood, the walls are filthy, the paint is peeling, the carcass of a TV sits on the flimsy porch. The electricity and the phones have only just been turned on.

Since there’s no furniture, Weissman and co-workers Mel Laracey, 36, and Suze Daly, 27, are squatting on the floor, grabbing phones as they ring, riffling through papers that are strewn all over. One of them opens a Federal Express package from the Denver office, which contains a solitary copy of Hart’s “bible” and a few dozen bumper stickers. There are also some smaller stickers that read, THIS COUNTRY NEED’S HART.

In Iowa, Hart’s rivals Richard Gephardt, Bruce Babbitt, Michael Dukakis and Paul Simon have more than 100 workers each; Weissman, Laracey and Daly represent seventy-five percent of Hart’s Iowa staff. Weissman is perhaps the prototypical 88B worker. He dropped out of Colorado University in 1984 to knock on doors for Hart, and he has been living on fast food and ambition ever since. Young people are crucial to Hart’s no-frills campaign and thus get responsibilities they could never get with other candidates.

“This has been the funnest month,” says Weissman, who’s wearing an Iowa Farm Unity Coalition cap. “It’s the essence of grass roots. What did Gary say? It’s the most empowering experience you’ll ever enjoy.'” (Weissman later tells a local reporter, “I’m a wee lad now, but one day I’ll be White House chief of staff.”)

A phone rings. Weissman picks it up, listens and announces, “Hey, we just won a mock caucus at Bell Plain High School! Us and Pete du Pont!” He asks another caller, “Hey, do you know anybody with a refigerator or a desk?” He accidentally hangs up his receiver on Laracey’s phone and laughs.

Outside, a TV crew is taping long shots of the house, which has a single identifying cardboard sign propped up in a broken window. Weissman looks out and says, “Oh, I gotta do the meet-the-neighbor bit before they start thinking a rapist has moved in next door!”

January 15th: Iowa

THE “DEBATE” AMONG THE DEMOCRATIC CONTENDERS sponsored by The Des Moines Register proves to be more like a rigged game show. The one moment of controversy occurs early on: the Register‘s James Gannon asks Hart the question his opponents don’t have the guts to ask. As Gannon cites Hart’s admission of adultery, Hart, who already looked wan and blotchy, begins to nod along nervously, and his face turns ashen. Gannon asks if Hart thought voters should “ignore the question of character and judgment and trust that this matter has raised.”

Hart’s answer is garbled, even though he clearly prepared his defense. He says that perhaps he should have said he was a “sinner” but claims that nobody’s perfect; he differentiates between private and public morality and deflects the charge toward Reagan’s “bankrupt” public ethics. Later he uses the word “immorality” to describe homelessness, hunger and the lack of health care. In general, his debating style weems out of practice.

At one point Simon, answering a question about problems with the current campaign system, says, “Those that don’t have money are being left our.” Off camera, and tuus heard only by those in the first few rows, Hart pipes up: “That’s me!” He is ignored. A few times he reaches over and grabs Jesse Jackson’s arm in a sign of support and solidarity: after all, they are the only two veterans from 1984’s campaign, and both of them are viewed as insurgents trying to shake up the party. Jackson never acknowledges Hart’s gestures or even looks his way.

After the debate Hart is the only candidate not to stop in a press room for a photo opportunity. He rushes off to the Best Western, where he is staying, to attend a meeting of supporters in a small conference room. A table offers slices of American cheese and some homemade dip in Tupperware bowls; a bartender is selling drinks.

Hart stands in the midst of about forty people; he looks clenched and freaked out. He stumbles over his words when he asks for support and seems ill at ease when he poses for pictures with supporters. As the Harts move to leave, CBS producer Steve Mc-Carthy sticks a tape recorder out for Hart’s reaction to the debate.

“Uh,” Hart says, “I think it went fine. You know, there were no major breakthroughs. … ” He and Lee scurry down the hall to an elevator, looking like frightened rabbits.

January 16th: Kansas

EXCEPT FOR A WELCOMING SIGN ON THE BEST WESTERN, Hart’s home town of Ottawa hasn’t gone to great lengths to dress itself up for his return. His visit and speech before the local chamber-of-commerce dinner had been planned before he reentered the race. Although the audience will be predominantly Republican. Hart plans to use the occasion to propose a federal budget that includes heavier taxes for the rich and increased social spending. Many reporters, forced to precede Hart to town because there are few flights from Des Moines, head to the home of Hart’s uncle, sixty-nine-year-old Ralph Hartpence (also Hart’s original last name). On the way the reporters drive past the drab brown barn housing the Church of the Nazarene, where the young Gary Hartpence was inculcated with the ascetic values he would later cast off.

On their small enclosed front porch, well-seasoned interviewee Ralph Hartpence and his wife, Nevalee, hold forth with a dozen reporters. There isn’t enough room for everyone to sit; Ralph apologizes with a joke: “I don’t want any you pretty girls sitting on my lap – you might say something.” He even tells the reporters a Hart joke they haven’t heard: “Gary and Lee are gonna have another wedding to retake their vows, but they’re gonna leave out the Rice.”

The press asks about Gary’s infamous name change. He’d never come clean about exactly why he’d done it; in 1984, it was a major sticking point, along with the fact that he’d lied about his year of birth. Ralph claims that a cousin recently traced their genealogy and discovered that back in the seventeenth century the name was actually Eberhartpence. The reporters exchange looks of disbelief, suppressing giggles.

“Oh, honey,” says Nevalee, “don’t get into that.”

Uncle Ralph seems to have gleaned as much of his information from the press as from personal experience; he admits he hasn’t seen Hart’s children, Andrea and John, “since they were five.” (They’re now twenty-three and twenty-one.) He talks of Gary’s strict mother, who moved the family through sixteen different houses in town, who preached at the church and hoped Gary would be a preacher. He recalls that Gary” ’bout went berserk when Bobby [Kennedy] got killed. He said, ‘I’m gonna hide out for a while. I’m afraid there’s a hit man out for me too.'” Ralph theorizes that his nephew’s womanizing might be “trying to keep the Kennedy image” but adds that Nevalee has said, “Oh, he’s just a typical Hartpence.”

HART’S FIRST STOP IN TOWN IS BEFORE ABOUT 250 LOCALS at the Ottawa middle School at 5:00 p.m. As always, he introduces Lee as “the first lady of Kitrredge, Colorado,” their home town. It’s an odd, even demeaning title, especially compared with “the love of my life,” which is what he calls Andrea when she shows up later in the trip.

Hart is known to hare small talk and fund raising, but he does his best to work the room, a bit glassy eyed, trying to recall people’s names, signing an old high-school yearbook: “Look at me,” he says. “I’m all ears.” Meanwhile, his best childhood friend, Duane “Whillie” Hoobing, a Kansas City schoolteacher, stands a few feet away, spewing opinions to reporters. Hoobing says that the strictness of the Nazarenes – they forbid dancing, smoking and drinking – made young Gary Hartpence “a little bit like a spring that’s compressed.” He adds that Hart is “not some guy who thinks he’s God’s gift to women – in fact, I’d say he probably feels more inferior.” Hoobing says he hasn’t talked with Hart since the scandal. “I don’t know what his speech is going to be,” he says, “but if I were giving it, before I did my budget speech, I would apologize: ‘For whatever embarrassment I’ve caused this city and the people therein, I’m sorry.’ In his heart, he probably feels that.”

IF HART FEELS REMORSE, HE DOESN’T SAY SO IN HIS chamber-of-commerce speech. The dinner is held in the cafeteria at Ottawa University, on folding tables decked out with red, white and blue balloons. After the roving violinist has finished playing and the meal has been consumed, Hart displays a new jocularity so loose it rattles. He introduces several notables in the audience, including the president of the college’s student body, adding, “I’m mightily impressed by anyone with the title president of anything.” To introduce his main topic, he delivers a line that he attributes to Will Rogers: “The federal budget is a document produced every year to give people in Washington something to laugh about.” The room is deathly silent.

“Actually,” Hart says, “since we can’t plagiarize anymore, Will Rogers didn’t say that. Heh-heh-heh. I said it, but I thought it’d be funnier than it was. So I don’t want to hang that around Will’s neck.”

After the speech, many women flock to Lee to offer their support. Lee says, “I wanna tell ya, I wouldn’t want to see a person elected who’s never been through what we’ve been through. Not only Gary but our family. If you’ve never experienced any kind of struggle in your life, you’ve never really had an opportunity to show your test of strength. Forget the fact that Gary’s my husband: I’d rather have a president who has gone through what Gary has gone through than one who hadn’t gone through anything.”

Lee is perhaps an even bigger enigma than her husband of twenty-nine years. She is much more outgoing than Gary, but in a garrulous, twitchy and unnerving way; she often has to be pried away from chatting with reporters. She told New York Times reporter Maureen Dowd, “People thought I was either a doormat who had no personality [or] an overly ambitious person who was willing to put up with anything to get into the White House. I would hear about this [and] fall down laughing.”

As Hart’s proof of his new propriety, Lee is on hand all the time, a situation neither of them seems accustomed to. (They’ve been officially separated twice in 1979 and in 1982.) During a stop in one small town, Lee disappeared into a shop and returned clutching a shopping bag. She interrupted Hart, who had been discussing issues with a local, to hand him the receipt. “I’m really happy you had a chance to shop for ward-robe,” he said through gritted teeth.

January 17th: Georgia

ON THE PLANE FROM KANSAS CITY TO ATLANTA, while Gary and Lee Hart sit back in coach with reporters, twenty-five-year-old advance man Dennis Walto is sitting up in first class. “Frequent flyer,” says Walto sheepishly.

Walto is a long-haired, glib and affable resident of Venice Beach, California, who often wears sunglasses propped up on his head. In 1983, when he was a college student in upstate New York, he and some friends went up to New Hampshire to campaign for underdog Gary Hart. He has also worked for such causes as Hands Across America and Farm Aid.

“People want to see how Gary’s reacted,” says Walto, “and he’s become stronger. You wouldn’t even think he’s the same guy.” Walto says that workers for other candidates have “a secret envy” of the Hart campaign. “We’re not playing the game by the rules,” he says. “We’re trying to bring it back where it started, the voters, being freed from the reaction of the Beltway crowd. We don’t read Newsweek, Time, The Washington Post; we don’t watch the network news. There’s a life beyond the Beltway, a whole country out there, and there’s been a loss of perspective.”

Hart has decided not to give any full-length national print interviews. “We’re getting bashed,” Walto says, “and we’re going to whether we give them or not. In the beginning of ’87, we did every profile, talked to everybody about the debt, the name changes, and yet it’s like you open the door a crack, it stays open forever. There’s some sort of discomfort of the media with Hart. … From what we’ve learned, the story’s written before the interview. Like yesterday, I worked hard on the event in Ottawa, then ABC started their piece with a shot of a theater showing Return of the Living Dead Part II, saying, ‘Many people think the Hart campaign is like this show.'”

Didn’t Walto just say the Hart campaign wasn’t watching the networks? He smiles and says, “We get reports back.”

January 18th: Georgia

SO TO BYPASS THE BELTWAY PUNDITS and take his message directly to the people, Hart heads out on an exhausting one-day, 270-mile-long canvas of Georgia county seats. His advance work simply has not been done: the towns are practically empty, the restaurants populated only with people eating there anyway. In Vienna, a light rain falls, and supporter Will Durant holds a flimsy collapsible umbrella between the Harts as they are forced to go into banks and shake hands with tellers to elicit any response.

The most telling moment of the campaign comes after Hart leaves the Bank of Dooly and finally comes across the only person who seems to have heard about this visit and followed up on it: Lee Wingfield, a thirty-four-year-old black man who is missing both legs below the knee. (He explains he had been asleep on train tracks and won’t elaborate.) Friends brought him to Vienna and unloaded him into his wheelchair, and he sat out in the town square in the rain waiting for Hart. With much effort, Wingfield lifts up the right armrest and shows the broken seat support, complaining that when he applied for a new wheelchair from Medicaid, he was told it was “out of their jurisdiction.”

Here is a great moment that all the reporters slogged for miles to see. Perhaps Hart will be visibly moved by the man or at least make some sort of gesture to help; he could say, “Let me get your name, and I’ll see that you get your wheelchair fixed,” something, anything.

Instead, Hart, who is bending over to listen, leans back, stands stiffly and says, “Yes, that’s the problem. The government has more interest in MX missiles and following regulations instead of …”

The Harts eat a late dinner at Atlanta’s Ramada Renaissance Hotel with a few reporters. Many topics are discussed, but by the end Hart is attacking the press. He complains that more attention is paid to whether he calls his wife Babe than to his budget. Later one of the reporters will say, “The anger seemed remarkable, so much so as to be frightening.”

January 19th: North Carolina

THE REPORTERS DIDN’T KNOW IT DURING THEIR DINNER with Hart, but one source of his rage was a story about to be broken by The Miami Herald‘s Tom Fiedler and Jim McGee, the reporters who had broken the Donna Rice story. The new story would say that Hart supporter Stuart Karl (the producer of Jane Fonda’s workout tape) contributed at least $15,000 to Hart’s 1984 campaign – the legal limit is $1000 per person – and in 1986 paid Dennis Walto $3000 a month from his company’s payroll when Walto was actually doing advance work for Hart. The charges carry an extra kick to them because of Karl’s Hollywood background, Hart’s friendship with Warren Beatty has hurt his image, and it was at the home of rocker Don Henley that he met Donna Rice.

Fiedler and McGee confronted Walto in Ottawa on January 14th, when he was arranging Hart’s homecoming; he told them, “I think the context is being lost a little bit. Obviously, I also made a huge mistake by not knowing the law.”

Before printing the story, the Herald sent telegrams to Hart’s Colorado office asking for comment and spoke on the phone with Hart’s campaign manager, Sue Casey. Since the Herald had documentation, in the form of canceled checks, “the only area open to question,” says Fiedler, “was Hart’s personal knowledge.”

Fred Grimm, an Atlanta-based Herald reporter, has been dispatched to the Raleigh airport to get a statement. Hart drives up in a limo and enters the airport surrounded by Secret Service agents. As Grimm is pushed away by the security people, he yells, “Senator Hart!” Hart turns to him with a big smile, extending his hand, Grimm will say later, “like he finally found the one person in North Carolina who was going to vote for him.” Instead, Grimm tells Hart, “I need to talk to you about Stuart Karl.”

“He looked like someone had jabbed him with a poker,” says Grimm later. “His expression drained away; he looked stricken. He lowered the hand and turned away from me.”

Hart retreats to an office where he hides until his flight is called, then walks briskly past Grimm to the gate, eyes dead ahead.

January 20th: New Hampshire

THE MIAMI HERALD‘ BLARES ITS STORY ACROSS ITS front page; other papers are more cautious (or kind, or uninterested). After Hart finishes a series of restaurant meet-and-greets, the press corners him under a theater marquee in downtown Keene. In a vague, rambling statement, he says he has always tried to comply with the law and has asked some friends to look into the allegations. He waffles on Walto’s “capacity” with the campaign and concludes by saying, “I, because I believe very strongly in accountability and responsibility, will hold myself responsible for whatever happened and not shift blame to anyone else. But obviously a candidate cannot know every detail of what’s going on.” Asked if the story surprised him, Hart replies, “Oh, nothing surprises me anymore.”

Hart makes a noontime sweep through the Colony Mill Marketplace, where he browses in a bookstore (mischievously placing a copy of Gorbachev’s Perastroika in front of an autobiography of the Doles) and eats a chili-stuffed baked potato. Then it’s on to The Keene Sentinel for a closed-door meeting with the editorial board. While he’s inside, the reporters who have been following him use the Sentinel‘s copier to circulate the Herald story, which has been faxed to New Hampshire by ABC. The mood in the lobby is neither tense nor jubilant; this is just another long wait between the windows of sound-bite opportunity.

During the meeting, Hart tells the Sentinel that he was “under surveillance” last fall before he reentered the race but has no idea by whom. He also admits knowing that Karl was paying Walto (something he hasn’t told the national press) and contends it was legal, declaring that if Walto was working for both Hart and Karl, and if that situation was illegal, “then somebody ought to find out about it.”

As Hart comes down the stairs, lights come on, tapes whir, and the crowd tightens around him. “Are you not aware of what Dennis Walto’s job is?” asks a TV reporter. Hart just emits his icy heh-heh and gets in the car.

HART’S NEXT EVENT IS A SPEECH AT KEENE STATE COLLEGE. Nearly all the presidential candidates have spoken here, but Hart’s turnout is the biggest. One Republican student says that she came partly because she saw the new story about the finance disute and would like to see Hart address it, but she says that she doubt out he will. “I think he came back in because he found out he doesn’t have to say anything, you know?”

Hart proves this assessment correct when he takes questions from the audience. A woman asks, “How can you help those of us that may agree with you on political issues deal with the character issue in our minds when it comes time to vote?”

When he repeats the question for those who couldn’t hear, Hart gives it a skeptical turn: “The question has to do with how I may help those who may agree with me politically but apparently have trouble with what is called the character issue. Well, I’ve made a mistake, and I’ve said so quire openly and repeatedly.” He tries again to deflect the question toward Reagan’s policies.

As the audience files out, the woman who asked the question stands shellshocked, surrounded by reporters. She is Patricia Colby, Keene State’s director of career services and cooperative education, and she was a Hart supporter in 1984. “When I found out about him reen-tering the race,” she says, “I got so excited I called everybody I know. Then I watched him on Nightlime that right, and my response was ‘Jesus, does he have to look this sleazy?’ Because when you avoid or are acting evasive, you’re acting sleazy.” She says that she came tonight because “I like his stuff, it’s everything I care about,” and she wanted him to come out “way on top” of the character issue.

Instead, she says, “he depersonalized the question, and the question cannot be resolved on any level but the personal: ‘This has actually changed me, I want to improve myself.’ If it’s come right out and discussed, it’s so much better, because the human part of me can relate. I don’t like to have the question ignored. And I think there was not a person in all honesty who didn’t sit here and picture him doing it with Donna Rice.”

A few hours later, after a meeting with supporters in a Manchester restaurant, Hart is confronted by TV crews from Boston and New Hampshire. After a few benign “How’re you doing?” questions, one reporter asks, “Is the character question behind you?” Hart laughs his small heh-heh. The reporter continues: “Do you feel comfortable getting on to other issues?”

“Heh,” says Hart, “I only get this amorphous ‘character’ question from reporters.”

January 21st: New Hampshire

ONLY MINUTES BEFORE HART’S ARRIVAL AT FAVORITES restaurant, the first of three morning stops in Laconia, the sign outside reads, HAVING FUN YET? A worker with a long pole and a bucket of letters hurriedly changes the sign to read, WELCOME SENATOR HART. Only a handful of people are in the restaurant, and only a few of those seem to have even known Hart would be there. One septuagenarian holds a small, handmade sign with hearts all over it, which is running a little from the snow that has melted on it. Hart arrives and autographs the man’s sign, saying, “They should put that one in the Smithsonian.” The old man looks confused and says, “Hey, what about the White House?”

Hart later stops in Tilton at a plane-engine-parts factory he visited in 1984. Out on the front porch, some reporters ask a local Hart worker named Dan Calegari if the campaign has run into much animosity from voters. “Very little,” he says. “They’re pissed at you guys, and that’s helping Gary. They’re pissed because they can’t believe in anybody.” Asked if the finance scandal is tarnishing Hart, Calegari says, “Bad press attention has been a constant problem for the campaign, so we’re almost impervious to it now. We’ve been down so long it looks like up to us. You have to understand the people who are involved in this campaign have already participated in one miracle last time around, so we’re believers.”

Calegari has adopted Hart’s viewpoint: everything that has happened so far can be blamed on bad press – not bad behavior or bad judgment.

After yet another speech before a room of Republicans – the Laconia Rotarians – the Hart motorcade makes its way through perilously snowy, mucky roads to Boston, where the Question, which Hart claims he gets only from reporters, again rears its ugly head.

January 21st: Massachusetts

BEFORE HART ENTERS BOSTON UNIVERSITY’S STUDENT union to give his speech, there are only two placards visible: one reads, Go, and the other reads, GARY! The two-story room is decked out as if for a sporting event, with huge banners and flags hanging overhead, and the crowd of perhaps 2500 is the biggest Hart has drawn so far this campaign. When he strides into the room, the two placards separate and a third is inserted between them, so they read, GO HOME GARY! Someone else lifts a sign that says, DONNA RICE GIVES ME A HART-ON.

If Hart sees these, he doesn’t say anything about them. Sitting to Hart’s right, unable to see the signs because he spends the entire speech slumped and staring morosely at the ground, is his shy twenty-one-year-old son, John.

How shy? A few days later, Beth Frerking of The Denver Post sees John Hart on the streets of Nashua, New Hampshire, standing about twenty yards from his father. She approaches him, identifies herself and says, “Aren’t you John Hart?” He says no, his name is Robert Paroby – he spells it for her – and he is in town visiting a friend. Frerking, feeling embarrassed and hoping to salvage an interview of some sort, asks if he is a Hart worker or supporter. “Well, I’ll probably vote for him,” he says without a trace of a smile. Then a van pulls up, Gary Hart gets in, someone shouts, “John, come on,” and “Paroby” climbs aboard.

The BU students ask two questions that summon the ghost of Donna Rice. “It seems like presidents don’t always want to tell the press the kinds of policies they’re working on,” says one. “As president, how would you deal with the press, and what kinds of things would you think are important enough to withhold from them?”

“Um,” says Gary Hart, “I’m probably better qualified in this area than just about anybody running for president.” The room rocks with laughter and applause. “Well, I am philosophically Jeffersonian in more ways than one: the best protection against unwise policy is to level with the American people. … First of all, there is practically no way to hide anything anymore. …”

A few questions later, a student says, “You’re running for the most trusted office in America. You’re entrusted with the lives of 240 million Americans. You’ve admitted in the past that you’ve shown poor judgment at times – “

“One time,” Hart says.

“One time,” says the student, to applause and whoops. “You also admitted on Nightline that you committed adultery, which I don’t think should necessarily be part of the campaign. My question is -“

“I’m sure glad you reminded everyone of that,” says Hart. More applause.

“My question, however,” the student says, “is, how do we know that you will, I suppose, pay more attention to your oath of office than you did to your wedding vows?”

Hart’s answer is three pronged: “First of all, my marriage vows are my business, not yours.” This receives louder, more sustained applause than any of his new ideas. “Second, if to prove that I do make mistakes, people have to hide in my bushes and peep in my windows” – the Miami Herald denies this charge – “I think they have to go to extraordinary lengths, and third, let’s talk about judgment and character. Judgment’s knowing what’s right; character’s having the courage to do it. And I would not … sell arms to terrorists … lie to Congress … shred public documents … pass the buck. So I’ll leave that judgment up to the American people.” The cheers ripple the banners overhead.

Afterward, a student in the audience, Gary Partoyan, defends Hart’s reply. “He didn’t come right out and say that he’d uphold the vows but that he’s going to use his head. It’s pretty obvious that he got kicked in the teeth, the ass and everywhere else. I don’t think he left us hanging. Because anyone saying they’re absolutely under all circumstances going to uphold a vow or oath like that is overstepping their bounds as a human being.”

January 22nd:Iowa

OUTSIDE DUNCAN’S CAFE, IN COUNCIL BLUFFS, at 9:30 a.m., with lawyer Bernard E. Schneider by his side, Hart finally admits he bears some responsibility for the finance scandal. He says that his staff has discovered “as many as four” contributions made by Karl through employees and that these will be returned. “This was in violation of not only the restrictions placed on campaigns by the Federal Election Commission,” Hart says, “but also my own standard of campaign practices.”

He pushes his way past the cameras into the café Remaining out in the foyer is Andrea Hart, wearing a green sweater and a green skirt, her hair back in a braid with a green bow. She is forcing it a bit as a campaigner. but hell, she’s only twenty-three. Without being asked. Andrea addresses her father’s reputation for being cool and aloof, calling it “crazy.” She says, “He’s a very open, relaxed, honest, caring, gentle human being. He’s really funny, but he’s not going to show that on the campaign trail when he’s out in public, because he takes this country seriously. And if he looked cool and aloof because he’s talking about his ideas and the issues, then I guess that’s what you have to deal with. He’s not going to be any other kind of person.

After stumping from Council Bluffs to Logan to Harlan to Audubon to Carroll to Boone, Hart is clearly flagging. He admits wishing he could afford TV commercials, and by the end of the day he is waving his “bible,” saying, “I don’t know whether these are the best ideas or not …”

January 23rd: Iowa

“HE LOOKS KINDA LONELY OVER THERE,” says a Gephardt supporter about Gary Hart, who’s having breakfast by himself in the corner of the restaurant in the Des Moines Best Western. Four Secret Service men sit at a table nearby. The six other Democratic candidates are in town attending a debate on women’s issues, from which Hart is understandably playing hooky.

Andrea Hart stops by her father’s table to chat, then leaves. This is one of those rare opportunities that reporters dogging Hart’s trail covet and dread: because of his refusal to do print interviews, they have been forced to gingerly sidle up to him, always feeling intrusive. I approach and ask if we can talk.

“What about?” Hart says, cool and aloof. “I’m leaving in about three minutes.”

I’m worried about raising the wrong subject; there seem to be so many. “Um, the Democratic party,” I say.

“The party’s treated me fine,” says Hart, giving a semismile. He stands suddenly, and the Secret Service men all follow his lead. He’s up and out in a flash.

I call Hart’s suite to ask him one last question. After two rings, Gary Hart picks up his own phone.

“Yes?” I identify myself and say I just want to know the answer to one question. Does he feel he has been able to get his message across?

“Yes.”

He doesn’t think the media have been unfair?

“You have to ask the media what they think. I just give my speeches and answer questions.”

February 8th: New Hampshire

THE FACT THAT HART, LIKE GEORGE BUSH, has decided to flee Iowa to receive the results of today’s Iowa caucuses reveals he has an inkling that he will do even worse than the polls are predicting. In his last days in Iowa, he resorted to the type of media events he had been deriding: an ax throw, a basketball game, TV commercials. The commercials, were uniformly intense close-ups of Hart talking: in one, he claimed that the word character is used by people “as a smoke screen, because they don’t like someone who is different, who doesn’t play by their political rules. … When powerful people say you have to quit, character is saying, ‘Hell, no.'”

Hart arrives at the Merrimack Restaurant, in Manchester, across the street from his local headquarters, at about 9:30 p.m. Dennis Walto is on hand; he returned from exile in Denver to the campaign trail a few weeks after the finance scandal, telling reporters, “Let the FEC decide.”

The early returns give Hart a dismal one percent of the Iowa vote. As Hart strides up to the cluster of microphones to make a statement, his aide Bill Shore can he be heard desperately asking co-workers, “Got any new numbers? Hurry!”

Hart congratulates the top three finishers, Gephardt, Simon and Dukakis, and says he knew all along that Iowa required money, time and organization he couldn’t muster.

“But it does establish, I think, fairly well that I am once again back in the role of the underdog, one that I’ve had a number of times before in my career and one that I welcome.”

Putting the only positive spin he can on the night’s events, Hart says that the three leaders are battling for the “establishment” nomination and that as he endures through all fifty states, he will emerge as the alternative for disaffected Democrats, Republicans and independents. He ignores the fact that a fifty-state campaign costs money, which candidates with one-percent showings have difficulty raising; he also ignores the fact that Iowa has crowned two new “protest candidates” in Pat Robertson and Jesse Jackson.

Hart leaves in his motorcade for the Sheraton Wayfarer, CBS’s local headquarters, where he is supposed to be interviewed live at 10:30. He arrives, sits in the chair and is told that because Robertson is the story, there won’t be time for him. He stands up swiftly and leaves, showing no emotion. “I guess he’s used to being jilted,” says one CBS worker. Hart returns to the Merrimack Restaurant, where the mood is gloomy. The reporters keep their distance. Hart pours coffee for his workers and sends a bucket around to collect money for the bill.

Lee seems frazzled; at one point she misplaces her purse. Andrea can’t hide the depression on her young face. Only Hart, standing and smiling, seems fortified by his utter repudiation. It seems to strengthen his conviction that he’s too ahead of his time, his ideas too detailed for the populace to yet comprehend or appreciate.

IN THE END, THE ODD THING ABOUT Gary Hart is that his ideas are good and though the scandals would have damaged any candidate, he probably could have transcended them had he handled them with more grace. What brought him down was his impulse to lie, to deny what he doesn’t want to be true, and his chilling, challenging air. One of the first journalists to see Hart’s potential in the 1984 campaign, The Washington Post‘s Sidney Blumenthal, says, “I’ve always thought Gary Hart could’ve been Gary Hart had he not been Gary Hart. But he was.”

When Hart first returned to the campaign, says former issues director David Dreyer, “I was hysterical and apocalyptic. I thought it was bad for him, bad for his issues, bad for the Democratic party, bad for the Western world as we know it. That was overboard – with the exception of bad for him. … It was naive of him to think the press would not rise to the challenge.” Dreyer feels Hart should step down, but he hasn’t told him that: “I don’t know whether he’d agree or disagree – or listen.”

“You can’t run for president being a loner and outsider,” says 1984 Hart speechwriter Kevin Sullivan. “At some point you have to be inclusive. The political establishment was about to line up behind him, and Hart took the gun out again and shot himself in the foot, despite people telling him, ‘Stop fucking around.’ He was daring the gods. Maybe, going through this thing, he got the monkey off his back. He’s a theological person: to be caught, publicly humiliated, now freed of the burden, he made peace with his sins.”

As his campaignus intemuptus drew to a close, Gary Hart accomplished his goal: he was no longer the guy who had to drop out of the race because he dropped his pants. The results of Iowa and New Hampshire (in which he received four percent of the vote) have given him a new epitaph: Gary Hart is simply a loser.

Hart’s future role in American public life will inevitably rest on the way he rewithdraws, which from all signs won’t be pretty. Interviewing Hart after the New Hampshire vote, Tom Brokaw pointed out that Hart had finished “dead last,” that surveys show people didn’t want him in the race. He then asked, “Can you go on?” Hart laughed (a bit too long) and said, “That’s a great lead-in. No, I guess you could argue it the other way around: I did 400 percent better than I did in Iowa.” When Brokaw asked if he was worried about looking foolish, Hart replied, “I don’t think, if you are a serious person, you can look foolish.”

WHEN HART EFT THE RACE LAST MAY, he sat alone on a flight to Denver reading Tolstoy’s Resurrection. The book concerns a Russian nobleman who seduces a young girl who later becomes a prostiture; he winds up on the jury that convicts the same girl of murder. “In the very depths of his heart,” Tolstoy writes, “he knew that he had behaved so meanly, so contemptibly, so cruelly that the knowledge of this act must prevent him, not only from criticizing anyone else but even from looking straight into other people’s eyes, not to mention the impossibility of regarding himself as the splendid, noble, high-minded young fellow he considered himself to be. And yet he had to continue in that opinion of himself if he wished to carry on his old free, happy life. There was only one thing to do: not think about it. And this was the course he adopted.”

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