Hart bounds past the Mondale juggernaut
The Democratic presidential race now has two front-runners. Gary Hart's stunning upset in New Hampshire catapults him into first place in enthusiasm and momentum as the campaign rushes toward ''Super Tuesday'' voting on March 13 in nine states.Skip to next paragraph
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But don't count Walter Mondale out yet. He still has a lot going for him - more money, bigger staff, and extensive organization in all the most important states - some of which Gary Hart's team has barely thought about yet.
The Hart victory, however, has changed the character of this race. It has ensured that Mr. Mondale, even if he eventually wins, will have a battle on his hands right through some of the big primaries in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York.
Mr. Mondale had hoped to wipe out his Democratic foes and wrap up the party nomination by the end of March. It was a crucial goal. If he had succeeded, Mondale would have had several months to consolidate the party, build bridges to his defeated opponents, and plan strategy against President Reagan.
''Time is an important commodity'' in politics, says Charles Black, a Reagan-Bush senior consultant, who was in New Hampshire watching the Democratic contest. Mondale has now lost a great deal of time, if not eventually the nomination itself.
All sides are still digesting the magnitude of Mondale's loss. Two weeks before the primary, Senator Hart was getting only 9 percent support here in his own private opinion polls. Mondale was close to 40 percent.
After the Iowa caucuses, the tide began to shift. Even though Mondale whipped Hart in Iowa by 3 to 1, Hart's second-place finish made him look like a viable alternative.
Hart's strength in New Hampshire, the polls showed, rose to about 23 percent last Friday, 24 percent on Saturday, 25 percent on Sunday, 30 percent on Monday.
Meanwhile, Mondale slumped from about 40 percent to 30 percent in the two weeks before the voting.
The Hart camp, which included hundreds of volunteers here, was electrified. Some of his senior staff, however, remained skeptical. Dotty Lynch, Hart's pollster, told the Monitor just before the polls closed that despite the trend, she expected Hart to lose by at least five points.
The actual vote (Hart 40 percent, Mondale 28) is said to be the largest victory margin ever recorded in a contested Democratic presidential primary here.
The big question now is: Can Hart capitalize on his victory? There are some who doubt that he can. The Democratic Party rules (written by allies of Mondale, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, and major labor unions) are stacked this year against any dark-horse candidate like Hart running away with the nomination.
The new rules ''front load'' the process - putting more than half the state caucuses and primaries in a one-month period right at the start. Only well-known , well-organized candidates like Mondale could afford to compete in every contest.
Hart now must race the calendar.
There are 25 states that vote in the next three weeks. Mondale's campaign is running hard in all of them. Hart - short of money and manpower - had to put all his efforts into Iowa and New Hampshire. He is gaining speed. He had more volunteers here on primary day than he could use. Some $250,000 in contributions poured in on Feb. 28 alone. But so little time remains, he will have to pick his targets in early March, then hope to sweep the later primaries in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and California, to head off aMondale victory.