The Mondale-Hart 'full-court press' is on
The next eight days leading up to the Super Tuesday primaries present a super challenge to Walter Mondale and Gary Hart. But the challenge to each is different.Skip to next paragraph
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* Mr. Mondale, at all costs, must break the Hart momentum. Senator Hart's upset victory in New Hampshire already shows signs of snowballing into a powerful campaign that could become unstoppable.
* Senator Hart, despite lean finances, must demonstrate quickly that he is a nationwide contender. He must prove that New Hampshire was no fluke. Most important, Hart must show that he has appeal in the South, which will be crucial this year if the Democrats are to defeat President Reagan.
Both camps realize what's at stake. The Mondale team is using a strategy comparable to a ''full-court press'' in basketball. They are battling Hart every step of the way. They don't plan to give him a single free throw. That includes the little-publicized Maine caucuses, where Democrats are voting as this is written. It even includes Tuesday's unofficial ''beauty contest'' in Vermont, where voters will cast nonbinding ballots in the presidential race.
''We're in for a long, tough fight, and it could go right into the convention ,'' Mr. Mondale says.
The Mondale team needs to embarrass Hart very, very fast. At this stage, with the campaign in flux, public perceptions are all-important.
Mondale's planners would like to see the Hart campaign fall on its face early this week - if not in Maine, then in Vermont. A sharp setback might slow Hart's drive before it gets too much money, manpower, and momentum to control. Money is still Hart's most urgent problem.
Most important for Mondale, a quick Hart defeat could prevent the young Colorado senator from succeeding on Super Tuesday (March 13), when over 600 delegates will be at stake. That is nearly one-third of the delegates needed for the Democratic nomination. It once was expected to be the day that Mondale would finish off all his challengers and be assured of the nomination. That no longer appears likely.
The importance that Mondale puts on a quick Hart defeat could be seen during the past few days.
Within hours after New Hampshire, Mondale had dispatched his campaign manager , Robert Beckel, to Maine. At the same time, he ordered Michael Ford, his senior field director, to Vermont. Both Mondale and Hart made last-minute appearances in Maine in all-out bids for support.
Mondale's concerns are probably justified. Hart's campaign, which was broke, understaffed, and ignored by most of the media only a month ago, has ignited very much the way Jimmy Carter's did at this time in 1976.
The senator, who last month campaigned almost alone down the backroads of Iowa, today is followed by a growing army of reporters and cameramen. He's chartered his own Boeing 727 jet. His ramshackled national campaign offices over a movie theater in a poor section of Washington are suddenly bursting with activity. The five phone lines are constantly lighted, with some callers saying it takes over a hour to get through (20 more lines are to be installed today).
The explosive support for Hart is showing up across the map. Hart's Pennsylvania state coordinator, John Whitehurst, says he left his Philadelphia office for six hours on Thursday, and when he got back, there were 270 telephone messages waiting for him from people who wanted to volunteer or make contributions.