Printer Friendly

Why Gary Hart lost.


The 1984 presidential campaign may not have been the most memorable one of recent years. It was remarkable, however, for the unexpected surge of support that almost gave Senator Gary Hart the Democratic nomination over Walter Mondale. Almost, but not quite; within the stretch of a few weeks, Hart went from being on the verge of sweeping the nomination to being hopelessly in second place.

How Gary Hart lost the Democratic nomination is not just an interesting story, but an instructive one for those who saw in his candidacy a glimmer of how Democrats might be able to recapture the White House. The following excerpts, which pick up the campaign days before the March 13 "Super Tuesday' primaries in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, are taken from three of the recent books on the 1984 campaign. They are: Wake Me When It's Over by Jack Germond and Jules Witcover ( 1985 By Jack Germond and Jules Witcover. Reprinted with permission from Macmillian Publishing Company); The Quest for the Presidency by Peter Goldman and Tony Fuller ( 1985 by Newsweek, Inc. Reprinted with permission from Bantam Books); and Visions of America: How We Saw the 1984 Election by William A. Henry III ( 1985. Reprinted with permission of The Atlantic Monthly Press).

Missing beef . . .

[The Mondale camp determined that the best way to block Hart's surging campaign] was to deflate the whole idea of new ideas--and [campaign manager Bob] Beckel had some thoughts about that. He and his girlfriend, Mary Goehring, had been watching TV at his place and had caught a Wendy's commercial, a catchy spot with three elderly women inspecting a bready burger at a rival fast-food chain and demanding, "Where's the beff?' Ms. Goehring though it would be great if the old ladies were yelling that at Gary Hart. A light bulb flashed over Beckel's head, and when he flew South to Georgia the next day to help prepare Mondale for yet another debate, he was felling more bullish than ever.

The senior Mondale team was not. The [consensus] when Beckel found them gathered at the Hilton in Columbus, was that they might well be holding their last serious strategy meeting of the campaign. Mike Berman [another top Mondale aide] had brought along his memo on the logistics of Mondale's withdrawal from the race; it reposed in a briefcase at his feet, and Berman had steeled himself to show it to Mondale if [chief Mondale strategist Jim] Johnson said the word. It didn't look as if there would be many dissenters; Beckel though he had never seen so much depression in a single room.

"I've got the answer,' Beckel said. "Where's the beef?'

Mondale's response was an uncomprehending silence. Neither he nor some of the others had seen the ad or knew what Beckel was talking about.

"There's these old ladies, you see,' he said, "and they walk into this sterile place, you know, every fast-food joint U.S.A., and there's this bun, and suddenly she says, "Where's the beef? Where's the beef?'' Beckel was pacing the floor furiously, acting all the parts. "Isn't it great? Isn't it terrific?'

Mondale and some of the others weren't getting it.

"Don't you see?' Beckel said, flushed with creation. "One of the old women finally gets the owner on the phone--you know, this big, fat, rich guy, S.S. Bun, got a couple of hussies with him, and she says, "Where's the beef?' and he falls over backward and crashes.'

They still weren't getting it.

"Don't you see?' Beckel said, by now pleading. "It's Hart. It's what we've been trying to say all week long. Son of a bitch, there's nothing on there--there's no beef. He says "New ideas, new ideas, new ideas,' and what the fuck is a new idea, where's the beef?'

Some of them began warming to the idea, and Mondale spoke the slogan a few times, warily, as if he were trying on a purple suit. The performance, and the spark of hope it struck, lightened spirits in the room; the [memo] stayed in Berman's briefcase and went home with him to Washington, undelivered. But Beckel wasn't sure his brainstorm had caught on until he saw Mondale pull into the Hilton parking lot the next morning, coming back from church. Beckel was bound home for the capital that day, and his knuckles were already whitening at the prospect of the plane ride.

"I prayed for you today,' Mondale called out teasingly. "You need it.'

Beckel grinned and walked over to Mondale's car.

"Good luck tonight,' he said. "Kick the shit out of them, and remember, you're the best there is.'

Mondale thanked him, and Beckel started to go.

"One more thing,' Mondale said. Where's the beef?'

"You've got it?' Beckel said. He was a man of a thousand superstitions, one of which was that you never watch a client debate, but he didn't have to be there to sense that Mondale was going to win.

--Goldman and Fuller

. . . And a game try

That afternoon in Atlanta, when Hart was outlining his proposals for improving the economy, Mondale quickly found an opening.

"You know, when I hear your ideas,' he said, looking directly at Hart, "I'm reminded of that ad, "Where's the beef?''

As laughter ran through the audience, Hart tried to respond and turn the argument back against Mondale. But his reply was flat, convoluted--and too serious for the moment.

"I think you'd hear. One of the differences, by the way, is if a president goes back into office-- and one of us must, I think, to save this country--you cannot go back so committed to a handful of constituency groups that you cannot make this economy grow again. And that's the major difference, I think between myself and Walter Mondale.'

It was a game try, but the Mondale thrust was sure-fire for the television news coverage of the debate.

[In general,] Hart's performance [in Atlanta] was clearly lacking--and one gaffe in particular made him a target for ridicule. The moderator, John Chancellor of NBC News, asked the hypothetical question: what would each candidate do if as president he were notified that a Czech airliner full of people was flying toward the North American Air Defense Command headquarters and ignoring warnings from U.S. fighter pilots? The pilots had reported that "the lights are on and it's full of people.'

Hart had the misfortune to be the first in line but not the wit to see the folly of trying to answer.

"If the people they looked in and saw they had uniforms on, I'd shoot the aircraft down,' he replied. "If they were civilians, I'd just let it keep going.'

John Glenn, obviously itching for a chance to take a dig at Hart, leaped in. "Let me say first,' he said, "there's such a fundamental lack of understanding by saying we're going to go up and peek in the window on this thing and see whether they have military uniforms on.'

"That was Chancellor's,' Hart protested. "He said you look in there and see people.'

"You said you're going to peek in,' Glenn insisted. "I've been in these airplanes, and you don't go up peeking in windows.'

The other candidates were wise enough to recognize the trap. "I think that's a wonderful hypothetical, but it's ridiculous,' Mondale scoffed.

This debate was, as it turned out, only the first of a series in which Hart had problems dealing with Mondale in that format. Although both men insisted all through the campaign and thereafter that they were uncomfortable with attack politics, Mondale found himself able to attack when the occasion demanded--and Gary Hart did not.

--Germond and Witcover

Super Tuesday con job

Whatever doubts may have been raised about Hart, they were not substantial enough to deny him an impressive victory when the votes were counted on Super Tuesday. At least, the results should have been seen as an impressive victory.

In Florida, the largest state holding a primary, Hart defeated Mondale with 39 percent of the vote to 36 percent. In Massachusetts, it was Hart 39 percent and Mondale 26. In Rhode Island, Hart won 45 percent to Mondale's 35. Hart also won the caucuses in Washington, Oklahoma and Nevada. And in Hawaii an uncommitted slate defeated the Mondale delegates in a result that was viewed there as either a standoff or a triumph for Hart, who had no delegate candidates of his own there.

Mondale won only two of the nine events. On the strength of heavy backing from black voters, he won Alabama with 34 percent to 21 each for Hart and Glenn and 19 for Jesse Jackson. In Georgia, Mondale squeaked by with 30 percent to 27 percent for Hart, 21 for Jackson, 18 for Glenn.

Two weeks earlier, Gary Hart had been naked in the South; now he had won the largest prize in Florida and come very close to taking Georgia from Mondale. But the television networks viewed the results very differently--and demonstrated once against the extraordinary power they have to set the agenda and define the results in modern political campaigns.

In this case, the Mondale operatives made a point of helping the process--selling hard the idea that winning two states in the South would be a bonanza for them. Privately, they were convinced they needed to win two of the southern primaries and the Oklahoma caucuses just to keep the campaign breathing. But in both their public pronouncements, and in the sotto voce "inside' dope they passed on to reporters, they depicted such an accomplishment as probably beyond their reach.

"We worked at it,' Beckel said. "It was a conscious decision. We were trying to set up Hart and the press. We knew if we could come back in a couple of states, there would be an inclination in the press to keep the thing going, that they weren't going to hand it over to Hart.'

The first hard evidence of success came at 10 p.m. when NBC News, which had elected to do its special coverage in prime time, came on the air with Tom Brokaw presiding.

"Walter Mondale, alive and well tonight,' declared Brokaw, "in this race for the Democratic presidential nomination, thanking, as he put it, his friends in the South. And well he might, they have kept him in the race tonight.'

The NBC anchorman then began recapitulating the results. NBC was "declaring' Mondale a winner in Georgia. Hart had won in Florida, Massachusetts, and, "as expected,' in Rhode Island. Mondale had won a big victory in Alabama.

"So tonight,' Brokaw summed up, "Gary Hart wins three states. Walter Mondale wins two-- two of the big southern states that he had to to stay in this race.'

Then it was back live to Mondale headquarters, and Lisa Myers, who announced:

"They are euphoric. You'd think they locked up the nomination.'

A few minutes later came an interview of Hart by Roger Mudd. The interview was extraordinary in light of the fact that Hart had just won three of five primaries, including those in the two largest states at stake.

MUDD: Senator, not to take anything away from your victory this evening, but it appears your principal opponent, Walter Mondale, is on his way back. Is that correct?

HART: Well, I'm not quite sure. Back from where" He was the frontrunner in this race for a year and a half, and he, as you will remember, two weeks ago challenged me to come to the South and campaign, which I did, and campaigned all across this country . . . this campaign was the only one who was campaigning nationally. He was concentrating on the South, as was Senator Glenn. And so we combined a campaign in New England and the West with a campaign in the South, and I think we've won at least one state [in the South] and for practical purposes won another one [Georgia].

MUDD: Well, he was in danger, everyone thought, of really slipping through the ropes today, and he's not done that. Apparently, he's won in Georgia and Alabama. So you have not got rid of him. When are you going to try to get rid of him?

HART: Well, I don't--it's first of all not my task. I am going to continue to campaign. We won Massachusetts, we won Florida--the two largest states. There are three western caucus states still to be heard from. We may do very well out there. We stood off Vice President Mondale in the home state of the president he served with. And I think all of those represent major victories.

MUDD: But you didn't win in Georgia and you didn't win in Alabama. So all you won was Florida, which isn't a true southern state. So you're really not a national candidate yet, are you?

Then, after a couple of questions about future primaries, Mudd asked:

"A lot of people want to know, Senator, why do you imitate John Kennedy so much?'

That led to an even more bizarre exchange over whether Hart imitated John Kennedy and whether politicians were phony.

"And a final question,' said Mudd. "Would you do your Teddy Kennedy imitation for me now?'


MUDD: I've heard it's hilarious.

HART: I don't think it is.

--Germond and Witcover

"The comeback of the year'

The next morning, Hart appeared on the Today Show and found Bob Beckel waiting to go on when he had finished.

"How are you Bob?' Hart asked with cool civility.

"Real good,' Beckel answered, grinning broadly. "Just real good.'

Hart threw him a cold stare--a look, Beckel thought, that could have killed--and was shown into the studio. The Mondale camp was in fact astonished that the world had bought their party line that Hart had been stopped. They hoped it was true, and they saw encouraging signs in the exit polls from Florida that it might be, even though Mondale had lost there; the flow had been going his way at the end. But the degree to which the political community suspended its disbelief was quite beyond their dreams. Beckel sat smiling in satisfaction at a monitor in the green room as Hart went on and was asked straight off what had gone wrong in Georgia and Alabama.

After Hart had exited, Beckel got his turn on camera.

"Congratulations,' the host, Bryant Gumbel, told him.

"Yup,' Beckel said, beaming, "it's the comeback of the year.'

--Goldman and Fuller

The ad that never was

Two days after Super Tuesday, as Hart campaigned in Illinois, Pudge Henkel [Hart's campaign manager] met at Hart headquarters in Washington with the campaign's outside advisers and senior staff members to consider, among other things, how to cope with Mondale's negative campaigning.

A special counsel to the campaign, Ken Guido, reported he had been told that an opposition radio ad was apparently being prepared in New York that transparently raised the matter of the candidate's earlier name change from Hartpence to Hart. Also, Keith Glaser, the state coordinator in Iowa who was now back in Washington, reported that word had come in from the field that the Mondale campaign had produced and was running a commercial that talked about Hart's name and age. One of the senior issue advisers at the meeting, John Holum, who had worked with Hart in the 1972 McGovern campaign, wrote down a few lines for Hart to use in response to the reported ad.

Around this time, Kathy Bushkin called in from Arkansas, where the Hart entourage had just arrived. Hart and his traveling aides were already concerned about the way negativ campaigning had been dominating the dialogue, crowding out Hart's positive "new ideas' message. Hart decided to make a direct public appeal to Mondale to join him on a higher road of positive campaigning, and Bushkin was calling in to discuss the planned statement with David Landau, the chief campaign issues man. He informed her of the alleged ad, and then he read her the lines Holum had just written. Bushkin took them down and shortly afterward gave them to Hart as the campaign plane headed for Springfield, Illinois, where he had scheduled a press conference. On arrival, he issued [a] challenge to Mondale:

"I have spoken of new ideas for the future,' Hart said, "and for some reason former Vice President Mondale wants to talk about my handwriting. I propose new ways to make this economy grow again and to create real social justice in the 1980s, and for some reason Vice President Mondale proposes to talk about what my birthday is. I've spoken about a new generation of leadership for this country and for some reason Vice President Mondale wants to talk about my family name.'

Reporters traveling with Art called the Mondale campaign. They were told no such ads existed. Mondale, for his part, recognized at once an opening to fan the "unsteadiness' issue against Hart. "I think there's a lot of evidence,' he said, "that my opponent's getting unnerved.'

The reporters went back to Hart and asked him about the "phantom' ads. Bushkin checked back with the headquarters, triggering a frantic search for the ads or any evidence of their existence. Henkel called Ray Strother, the Hart ad-maker, asking him to try to locate them. Strother called all the radio and television stations in the Chicago area, to no avail.

Bushkin, armed with several excuses Hart could use, went down to him with the bad news. He rejected all of them. "Settle down,' he told her. "We made a mistake.'

Hart went out and publicly apologized to Mondale before television cameras, saying he had been in error about the ads being used.

What actually happened was a tribute to the famous Washington rumor mill. Right after Super Tuesday, Bob Beckel had talked to an old friend from New York, Joe White, a specialist in negative political radio ads. According to White, Beckel said he though the time had come to do some negative ads against Hart and asked him to come up with some ideas.

The next day, White said, he got a phone call from Charlie Scalera, an aid to Rep. Peter Rodino, who was a White client. "There's a rumor going all over Capitol Hill that you're doing negative ads against Gary Hart for Mondale,' White said Scalera told him.

The report made White laugh because he had only begun to think of some ideas, and the Washington rumor mill had picked up on the ads even before he had gotten them out of his head.

--Germond and Witcover

The "Fast Eddie' gambit

Five days before the Illinois primary, Caddell had an idea of how the election could still be swung decisively for Hart. A year earlier, Caddell had been involved in the bitter primary race for the Chicago Democratic mayoral nomination, handling polling and political advice for the eventual winner, Harold Washington, His candidate had won the primary over incumbent mayor Jane Byrne by maximizing black support and running hard against entrenched machine politics, represented and best symbolized by Byrnes's most influential backer, Cook County Democratic Chairman and leader of the Chicago City Council, Alderman Edward Vrdolyak.

Vrdolyak was the classic "Fast Eddie'--a political swifty right out of Central Casting, smooth and polished but with the street smarts clearly showing through. Washington, seeking to become Chicago's first black mayor, had run not only against Byrne but also against Vrdolyak, the hero of Chicago's white ethnics, intentionally polarizing the contest by race. With a second strong white candidate running, State's Attorney Richard M. Daley, the white vote split, and Washington squeezed through. Now Vrdolyak was supporting Mondale. Why not, Caddell reasoned, run against "Fast Eddie' again?

In Ray Strother, the Hart ad-maker, Caddell had an obvious and willing ally. Strother had worked for Daley, one of Vrdolyak's political archenemies, in the same campaign.

"We both came to the same conclusion,' Strother later said, "that the association with Vrdolyak was deadly.'

They agreed that the thing to do was prepare and run an ad for the Illinois primary putting "Fast Eddie' right on Mondale's back.

"I said,' Caddell recalled later, ""This is what we're going to do. We're going to hand Eddie Vrdolyak around Walter Mondale's neck. Very simple. Nothing cruel, nothing mean. There was no reason to anger Vrdolyak by attacking him. You don't have to say anything. You just put them together.' Gary said, "That's good.' He signed off on that.'

The next day, Hart told Chicago Sun Times reporter Robert Hillman in an interview aboard the campaign plane that he was not going to get involved in local Chicago politics in the course of the Illinois primary campaign. But Hillman, checking in with his office at the next stop, was informed by the Sun Times's chief political writer, Basil Talbott, that a new Hart ad rapping Vrdolyak was being aired. Hillman, feeling he had been lied to, sought out Bushkin for clarification, but she was in the dark.

Back in Washington, Henkel was trying to find out whether Hart had seen the script and had approved it. But Hart was out campaigning and hence out of the pocket. Finally, at about four o'clock in the afternoon, Washington time, Henkel got Hart on the phone and read him the ad. ""Pudge,'' Henkel recalled Hart saying, ""I don't like it. I don't want to use a commercial that uses somebody else's name.''

Hart, Henkel said, was the one who focused on the name Vrdolyak. "He was willing to go with the generic ad. [But] he did that reluctantly, because of the negative aspects of the commercial.'

Henkel went on: "While I was talking to Gary, I wrote on the script, "Make sure that this commerical is not running.' I handed the script to David Landau [another top Hart adviser]. I completed the conversation with Gary, and about 30 minutes after that, David Landan came in. "Pudge,' he said, "I've got bad news. That commercial is running. It's on the air.''

Henkel, realizing how strongly Hart felt was-- as he put it himself later--very "exercised,' and he tried to reach Strother to find out what had happened, and to get the ad pulled. But Strother, too, was out of the pocket. He was flying from North Carolina to Arkansas, where he had another candidate-client. And besides, getting the ad off the air would be a major task under any circumstances at this hour. The managers of most of the stations involved had gone home for the weekend, with the weekend programming locked into computer-controlled systems. Unless something extraordinary was done removing the ad would have to wait until Monday, and Henkel still had not even reached Strother.

To Landau, it had all been a cute Caddell ploy. "Caddell was to blame for the Vrdolyak ads,' he said later. "No one else could have been responsible.' He insisted that Hart had never approved their use as Caddell had said.

Whatever the case, Caddell had no reservations about the political wisdom of running the ads. "This spot hit the air,' he said afterwards, "and 24 hours later, we were 12 or 13 points ahead. This thing just blew the suburbs of Chicago. All the undecideds we were having in our data, this thing just blew wide open . . . it was the first comeback on Mondale.'

In other words, the Vrdolyak ads, for all the reservations about taking him on directly, according to Caddell, were virtually assuring a victory for Hart in Illinois, three short days before the balloting. All he had to do was hold on.

Mondale's polling confirmed the same sudden turnaround. "We were all scared to death,' a Mondale aide recalled.

And then Hart made his second major mistake involving television advertising, imagined or real, in two days. After having apologized to Mondale for having charged him, without proof, of preparing to run unfair ads, Hart now said his own campaign had erred again in running the anti-Vrdolyak ads. They would be pulled off the air at once, he told reporters who were now hounding him about their use.

"The difference between me and Walter Mondale was that he was the candidate of the organization,' Hart later explained. "It was the fact that [the ad] personalized Vrdolyak. I had no quarrel with Vrdolyak. We had gone to great lengths not to get involved in Chicago politics. I felt if I was the nominee I was going to have to go back in there. I needed everybody's help.'

How Hart felt about Eddie Vrdolyak, however, was not the point now. The point was that Hart, or his campaign, for which he was ultimately responsible, had goofed again. As every hour passed and the ads continued to appear, even as he insisted he was trying to get them off the air, the incident was playing directly and dramatically into Mondale's hands. A candidate must be "surefooted,' Mondale was saying now, and he didn't have to elaborate.

At about ten o'clock that night, as the situation festered in Illinois, Strother arrived at his hotel in Little Rock. The phone was ringing as he entered his room.

"It was Henkel,' he reported later, "weeping on the telephone. He was actually crying. He said, "Why have you done this?' I said, "What have I done?' He said, "Those ads went on the air without Gary's approval. Check with Pat Caddell.' He said, "Gary wants those ads off the air.''

Strother then began a frantic but largely futile effort to locate station managers in the middle of the night, get them out of bed, endure their irritated explanations about why the ads couldn't be killed, and try to go to the station to do so.

"At this point,' Strother said, "the message became, "Why can't Gary Hart pull the ads?' Just what I predicted would happen happened. Mondale said, "How can a man run the country if he can't run his own campaign?' At that point, the campaign changed direction. It wasn't necessarily lost, but it lost all its steam built up in New Hampshire and Florida.'

Because Hart wasn't able to get the ad off the air after saying he would, Caddell said, he suddenly plunged from being ahead of Mondale by 12 or 13 percentage points to falling 9 points behind. "I've never seen anything like this,' Caddell lamented.

Mondale himself said later that "if Illinois had gone down it would have been very difficult to carry on.' Illinois, he said, was the turning point for him.

--Germond and Witcover

Pander and equivocate

Hart had to win in New York. Not "had to' in the sense of some journalists' imposed expectations, but "had to' numerically. Mondale had pulled far ahead in the delegate count, and he seemed assured of continuing to draw a disproportionate share of the "superdelegates' chosen from among party hierarchs and elected officials. Hart's only chance was to beat Mondale often enough in primaries, in enough different kinds of states, to discredit him whatever his numerical advantage.

The discrediting would have to be accomplished through the press, and the emerging conventional wisdom of reporters rated New York as rocky, testing terrain for Hart. He had fared best in "open' primaries, in which independents could participate; New York's was "closed' to all but Democrats. He appealed in areas where incomes ranked above the national average and unemployment below it; New York combined extremes of suburban, mostly Republican, affluence and sprawling urban decay. Above all, Hart had fashioned his persona as a leader by stressing his lack of ties to encumbering special interests. In New York, where Democrats perhaps invented and surely perfected the technique of the balanced ticket, special interests made up the bulk of the party, and they all wanted to be sure they owned a piece of the nominee. Independence was mistrusted, not prized, in a candidate campaigning in New York. Indeed, in every contested presidential primary the state had held, it had preferred the Democratic candidate who paid the most attention to labor unions and the Jews.

Hart had burned his bridges with the unions. But he could, and did, decide to truckle to other constituencies, rather than play New York's politics his own way and assume that a reputation for consistency and integrity was a greater asset than any marginal gain in votes. His first major strategic decision was to endorse a plan, put forward by New York's senior U.S. senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Most foreign policy experts in both parties thought the idea was dangerous. It would inflame Arab countries, which regarded Jerusalem as occupied territory. It would further the image of the United States as a submissive endorser of anything Israel chose to do. And it would therefore weaken the Americans' effectiveness as peacemakers in the region, all for no practical gain. Jews, however, by and large loved Moynihan's idea, in part because it affirmed Israel's right to Jerusalem, the emotional center of the Hebrew faith, but even more for the very reason that others objected to it: the move would force the United States to cast its lot with Israel alone, more unequivocally than ever.

Hart had always been contemptuous of campaigners who in his view prostrated, even prostituted, themselves to win votes. He had also warned his aides that such moves often backfire. Yet he urged the embassy transfer, and when Mondale predictably characterized him as a latecomer to the issue, Hart plunged into an unedifying, hairsplitting attempt to prove how long he had been a believer.

The outcome on election day, April 3, decisively ended the Gary Hart phenomenon: he might remain a candidate, but he was clearly no longer a wonder. Mondale drew almost 45 percent of the vote, to just over 27 percent for Hart and 25.5 percent for Jackson. Hart came close to finishing third.


As any retelling of Gary Hart's candidacy reveals, much of what hurt him was trivial, or not even his fault. The staff mix-ups over derogatory television ads were relatively minor, and Hart conceded his error. In the weeks before and after "Super Tuesday,' a strong undercurrent ran against Hart in the press coverage of his campaign. It made for a better story on the evening news--and promised a longer campaign--to interpret "Super Tuesday' as a comeback for "Fighting Fritz.' That's the story most Americans saw.

Still, two of Hart's failures clearly were within his control, and they proved instrumental in dooming his candidacy. The first was illustrated by Mondale's famous retort during the Atlanta debate; the second was Hart's equivocation during the New York primary on moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

"Where's the Beef?' sounded somewhat silly even in 1984, but it was a devastating one-liner for one reason: it rang so true. It was not that Hart lacked ideas, "new,' good, or otherwise. His carefully constructed program for military reform had profoundly affected Democratic thinking on defense issues. Hart had also taken a not insubstantial chance in the middle of his campaign by publishing A New Democracy, which many reporters never got around to reading. More so than the other candidates, Hart had attracted many loyal supporters precisely because of his genuine interest in the intellectual side of politics.

Where Hart failed was in translating those ideas so they could be readily grasped by those who ultimately mattered most: the voters. They didn't need detailed position papers, but they did need more than such innocuous-sounding nostrums as "individual training accounts.' Even more important, voters needed a sense that Hart's "new ideas' had an edge to them, that they were substantial enough to fight for. Hart's lack of courage in this regard was apparent in whom he chose not to offend with new ideas. National service was not emphasized at all; it might rankle the young. Reforming entitlement programs would upset older voters. Tax reform might upset both labor and business.

This lack of courage also lay behind Hart's second failing, one that was even more telling. Hart wanted to lead a "new generation' of Democrats who were profoundly disturbed by their party leaders catering to powerful special interest groups. But Hart had tried to have it both ways. Even before the primaries he had (vainly) sought the endorsement of the National Education Association by embracing their platform in full; likewise, he had assiduously courted women's groups and the AFL-CIO.

This is why Hart's flip-flop on the Jerusalem embassy question hurt so badly. It was a small, almost trivial issue, and that made it all the worse. Here was Hart, accusing Mondale of currying favor with powerful interest groups, not only selling himself in the same way, but doing it so cheaply. The subliminal message this conveyed was devastating. Voters had recently learned of a more disturbing side to Gary Hart--his mysterious age change, the uncertainty he had shown in handling the Vrodlyak ad. If he was also just a newer version of the old politics, why not settle for the real thing?

Voters did settle for Mondale in New York, by an 18-point margin. But what really mattered was not Hart's losing so much as whom he lost. As Henry describes it, "Mondale did not have to depend on New York City voters--he ran barely even with Jesse Jackson there--because he beat Hart soundly in the suburbs, among independents, among the college-educated and affluent, and even, according to some polls, among voters under 40. Hart still ran stronger among those groups than with the rest of the population. But for them, too, he had fallen to second choice.'

Many primaries and caucuses followed New York, and Hart would catch a second wind, winning 7 of the last 11 contests, including California. But it was too little, too late; his moment had passed. In the end, his failure to be true to his own best instincts had defeated him more surely than anything Walter Mondale did.

--The editors
COPYRIGHT 1985 Washington Monthly Company
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Henry, William A., III
Publication:Washington Monthly
Date:Oct 1, 1985
Previous Article:Valley of the duds; inside Hollywood's bad movie machine.
Next Article:The right stuff in the wrong place.

Related Articles
The real monkey business; it was Gary and Billy, not Gary and Donna.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters