Mondale way ahead in Iowa, but watch out for Hart
A survey of nearly half the Democratic county chairmen in Iowa indicates that Walter Mondale should win a decisive victory here in the nation's first presidential caucuses next Monday.Skip to next paragraph
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The survey, conducted by the Monitor during the past two weeks, also found that Gary Hart could prove to be a surprise in the field of eight candidates with an unexpectedly strong vote.
Senator Hart, whose presidential hopes were almost written off by the news media last fall, has made significant inroads in Iowa's rural counties where Jimmy Carter gained much of his strength in 1976.
It is widely predicted here that John Glenn will place second in the voting. The county chairmen generally agree with that assessment. But they indicate that Senator Glenn's second-place position is probably weakening in the final days here.
The man to watch, however, is clearly Mr. Mondale, who hails from next-door Minnesota, and who could sweep every region of the state, the survey found.
Every chairman who was willing to predict an outcome, from Kathryn Hansen in Sioux County near the South Dakota line, to Philip Wise in Lee County near the Illinois border, judged Mondale to be the front-runner.
Even if Mondale wins a sweeping victory in Iowa next week, many of the chairmen see a difficult campaign ahead here against President Reagan in the fall. The party chairman in a small northeast Iowa county said:
''If Mondale is the nominee, he will not be able to shake the big-spender image. Somehow Reagan has escaped the label.''
Senator Hart's apparent strength just a few days before the voting begins in Election '84 would have been predicted by almost no one a few months ago. His campaign was in debt. His staff was being cut back. Some news analysts had virtually written him off.
Faced with this grim outlook, Hart went to the grass roots. He has crisscrossed Iowa, speaking to small groups, cultivating farmers and townspeople in the thinly populated countryside.
Hart's strategy is one that has worked here before. In a 12-month period during the 1976 campaign, Jimmy Carter spent 109 days in Iowa, much of it in rural areas. Mr. Carter sank down some deep roots with Iowa voters, roots that have survived. Today, surveys show that Iowa Democratic voters more strongly support the record of the Carter-Mondale administration than any other group of Democrats in the nation except those in Georgia.
Hart appears to be nurturing that kind of deep-rooted support, the survey indicates. Here's what some of the county chairmen have to say:
Terry Stewart of Dubuque County observes that ''Hart . . . is gaining ground in these closing weeks, as a youthful, creative candidate.''
James Miller of Henry County says: ''Hart has worked hard in Iowa and a lot of people like him. He has gotten to the people.''
Del Laird of Buena Vista County observes: ''Mr. Hart is coming up fast on the rail.''
W. R. (Bill) Monroe of Des Moines County indicates that Hart supporters have strong commitment.
Ron Stopak in Plymouth County concedes that Hart lacks national recognition, but adds: ''In Iowa, Hart seems to have good crowds for an unknown, and people have left impressed. In Iowa, as opposed to a large media state, word of mouth is helping Gary Hart's campaign.''