Campaign turns Super Tuesday corner; Boy from Bethany Nazarene College may fare OK in Oklahoma caucuses
Oklahoma City — Excitement is winning out over fatigue among workers at the Gary Hart headquarters here. Their man, who once went to college near here, may have a good chance in Oklahoma on Super Tuesday.
It is hardly an imposing headquarters. Put together hastily after Senator Hart's victory in New Hampshire, it is located in a modest, one-story office park in a remote part of the city. There are no paid campaign workers.
But there is enthusiasm galore as youthful volunteers work night and day to build grass-roots support. Phones are ringing constantly from people wanting to know more about Hart and offering to help.
John Glenn was thought to be the favored Democratic candidate in Oklahoma. But New Hampshire ''struck us like lightning,'' one Hart worker says. Now polls show Hart gaining ground.
''In 25 years in politics I have never seen anything like this,'' says Jim Barrett, the Hart campaign coordinator and state finance chairman. ''Traditional Democrats are coming to us in droves - liberals and conservatives, young and old. Our problem has been getting in enough phones, not politicking.''
For the Hart people, the barrier to break down is Oklahoma's complicated caucus system. Up to 50,000 people turned out for caucuses in 1972. Since that time the number has steadily dropped. Only 13,000 participated in 1980.
''If we had a primary system here Hart would win 2 to 1,'' says Mr. Barrett. Hence the effort to cut through the apathy and get people to attend the Tuesday caucus meetings. Oklahoma will have 53 delegates at the Democratic National Convention. The caucuses today begin the process of selecting 29 delegates from the congressional districts. Another 24 will be chosen at the state party convention March 23.
Barrett, a restaurant entrepreneur and longtime friend of Hart, thinks the caucus barrier can be broken.
''We (Democrats) have had only two winners since FDR - Truman in '48 and Johnson in '64 - and suddenly we see a chance,'' he says.
''Hart is an entity with Oklahoma. He went to school here (Bethany Nazarene College) and he married here. We have never had such a good chance with a man who has roots in Oklahoma and whose political philosophy matches this state.''
To rally support, dozens of volunteers have been pounding the streets, knocking on doors, handing out campaign material. Some 80 young volunteers flew in from Colorado this past weekend to lend a hand. A huge map of Oklahoma City shows in yellow the precincts where Hart support has been organized. The yellow patches are expanding.
In rural areas, too, there has been an intensive effort to organize grass-roots support. Former Nevada Congressman John Cavanaugh recently traveled around the state as a surrogate for Hart. Hart's wife, Lee, also put in appearances in Tulsa, McAlester, and other towns.
''In Iowa we covered 80 out of 99 counties, and it paid off,'' says Martin O'Malley, Hart's field coordinator for Oklahoma and a veteran of the Iowa campaign. ''Farmers and others are coming out of the woodwork. We scoured for people in Iowa. Here the people are finding us. There is definitely a surge.''
''People were going for Glenn here because they did not like Mondale,'' Mr. O'Malley says. ''But now they're turning on to Hart because they want to believe again.''
If Hart wins the majority of delegates here, it will not be the result of big money and slick organization. Some $30,000 is being spent on media advertising. Besides that, only about $12,000 has been spent statewide on the Hart campaign so far, says Barrett.
Hart's charisma seems to have much to do with drawing such dedicated volunteers to his side. But campaign workers say that the candidate's views on energy, defense, and ''new leadership'' have a decided appeal.
Volunteer worker Beverly Borthick comments: ''Hart's an aggressive candidate who has some magic to him. But the people in this campaign are thinking youth - accountants, attorneys, and others - and they've thought it through. We're excited, but it's not just emotionalism.''
Whether they win or not, the youthful campaigners say they have accomplished something: The Democratic Party says it has registered more people than ever, and dropouts from the party are becoming active again.
''People are tired of fights between the 'right' and the 'left' and of being pulled apart,'' Barrett says. ''They want to look to the future - to the kind of new leadership Hart is talking about.''