Politics '84 is a long way from Kansas for Oletha (Lee) Hart
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''Andrea and John really idolize their father and respect him tremendously and love him deeply,'' she said. The two children are also quite different individuals, she said. Andrea follows her mother's love of athletics. (Her mother was an ''outdoors'' type of child who spent much time riding her bicycle, according to her sister. Mrs. Hart said she would have been delighted if girls' sports had been emphasized in the '50s as they are today.)Skip to next paragraph
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John, just graduating from high school, has taken up karate. ''Gary has tried to see him'' qualify for the various belts, said Mrs. Hart, and he has also taken his son on trips ''when it was possible.
''I think there is a very, very great and strong bond between Gary and Andrea and John,'' she said. Andrea has taken a year off from school to campaign for her dad. ''From what I hear, she has done a terrific job,'' said Mrs. Hart. Because they campaign separately, she has not been able to watch her daughter.
Mrs. Hart's own involvement in the senatorial life has been chiefly in campaigning for her husband. ''Lee hasn't participated that much with the other (Senate) wives,'' says Rita Hollings, the wife of Sen. Ernest Hollings (D) of South Carolina and a favorite tennis partner of Mrs. Hart. Mrs. Hollings notes that Mrs. Hart was occupied first with raising her children and later with her work as a real-estate agent in Potomac, Md.
As the Harts have acknowledged, the bond between husband and wife has undergone strains, including two separations. ''I think the separations have been a tremendously important developmental process in our marriage,'' Mrs. Hart said. ''I have absolutely no regret for those times. It was necessary for us.''
She added, ''Each of us was able to look at the other person from another perspective. Sometimes what you need is time and space to do that.''
The reconciliation, coming before the presidential marathon began, was unrelated to the campaign, she said. ''Our greatest concern was for the happiness of the four of us. Politics never entered into our decision.''
The campaign has strengthened their ties, she said. ''I believe as strongly in it as Gary does. We share equally a compassion for those less fortunate, concern for fairness, and equality for all. To be able to share in a cause together has meant a great deal, and in so sharing, it can only strengthen a relationship.''
The year 1983 brought its share of discouragements for the couple.
''It was frustrating. We knew there was tremendous support there for Gary,'' she said, adding that her husband was convinced that the average voter would not focus on the races until 1984. Yet news reports pronounced the nomination sewn up for Walter Mondale.
''I remember one time in August or September, during the dark days, Gary coming home and saying 'I just can't get out of this race. There's too much out there,' '' Mrs. Hart said.
More recently, her frustrations with the news media hover on the coverage of two Hart inconsistencies, one involving his birthdate (it is one year earlier than his official biography says) and the other his explanation for shortening his name, originally Hartpence. He says his family wanted the change, but others say he initiated it.
''The press is so cynical,'' said his wife. ''A certain amount of cynicism is healthy. But you look for a rock under every bush.
''I don't mean you, personally,'' she told her interviewer, checking her zeal in defense of her husband. ''People out there think it's ludicrous that so much is being made of it,'' she said. ''How many people have changed their names?'' As for the age question, she said, ''That's been a joke in the family for years.''
Should Hart prevail in the race for the Democratic nomination and then win the White House, the forthright Mrs. Hart would almost certainly be a highly visible First Lady. Asked for her thoughts on the subject, she at first demurred. ''It's too early. We have a long road ahead,'' she said, but then sketched out a vision.
''It's a tremendous opportunity to have influence for good,'' she said, predicting that she would be an ''active First Lady, involved in many things I feel so deeply about.'' On top of her list is the public schools.
She has also been a supporter of women's rights. ''I do feel very strongly about women being involved in the electoral process, equal opportunity in education, in jobs and in pay,'' she said.