Hart, back in the pack, ignored by the media, hunts campaign spark

Newsweek and Time are making Gary Hart's campaign aides a little testy these days. It isn't that America's two leading newsmagazines are saying anything bad about Senator Hart, who is running for president. In fact, it's more serious than that. They are ignoring him.

Nothing could be much worse for a candidate with his eye on the White House, just five months before the New Hampshire primary. During the past two weeks, Hart's staff points out:

Newsweek devoted a cover story - 13 pages and 21 color photos - to the new movie ''The Right Stuff'' and its potential impact on the race for the Democratic nomination. The movie is about John Glenn and the other Mercury astronauts, and it is expected to give a lift to Senator Glenn's presidential bid. But in all those pages, Gary Hart was mentioned in only five sentences, and most of that was about campaign debts.

Time followed with its own seven-page election report. Hart's campaign was summed up in a single sentence, which concluded that ''some voters'' (who were unnamed) found Hart to be ''arrogant.'' His money problems were again noted. The article featured seven photos of Walter Mondale, one of Glenn, none of the five other Democratic candidates.

That's the way it has gone for Hart lately in the news media. And the same could be said of his fellow dark horses. They usually get mentioned only in passing (''the five other avowed contenders''). There is little discussion in the press or on TV of the issues, where the ''bottom five'' could show off their differences and pick up support. All the media splash and color go to things like Hollywood movies or endorsements by big groups like labor unions and teacher associations.

Just about everywhere it's being called a two-man race between Mr. Mondale and Mr. Glenn.

All this, and it's not even 1984 yet. Not a primary has been held. Not a caucus has met. Not a vote has been cast. Not a delegate has been selected.

Senator Hart is upset about it. So are some of the other candidates.

There are urgent reasons that Hart and the others are complaining at this particular moment. The next two months - November and December - are critical for fund raising. Because of new campaign rules, every serious candidate must have a big bankroll by New Year's to fund TV ads, staff salaries, and travel.

But the red ink is flowing just about everywhere. Hart is $150,000 in debt. And he must spend at least $170,000 a month just to keep his campaign alive. When big contributors see little media attention for the ''other contenders,'' they snap their wallets closed.

Campaign manager Oliver Henkel Jr. says frankly that all this is forcing Hart toward a two-pronged ''survival strategy'' during the next couple of months. The strategy will include:

* Emphasizing volunteers, especially students, in the early primary states. Some 400 Hart volunteers swarmed over New Hampshire Oct. 1-2 and contacted nearly 10,000 households in that first-primary state. The results were encouraging: Some 80 percent of those contacted said they were still undecided, despite Mondale's and Glenn's wide lead in the national polls. Six-hundred people signed up during those two days to help Hart as unpaid workers. The campaign hopes to reach 40,000 New Hampshire households by the end of October.

* Turning the campaign toward the issues. This is already happening in the wake of the first debate in New York. Glenn's jibes at Mondale have turned both the leaders toward more substantive speeches. This could open the way for Hart and others. Hart contends that if the campaign can be turned away from media hype, he will fare well with his knowledge of defense, foreign trade, the economy, and civil rights.

What is Senator Hart's message to American voters?

Hart, the youngest of the Democratic candidates, says that his party must reject the old ways of attacking the nation's problems. Mondale is wedded to those old ways, he asserts. So is Glenn.

Hart, like several of his young Senate colleagues, came into office in the 1970s, when America had quite abruptly lost a lot of its swagger and confidence. Vietnam started it. So did Watergate. But those were followed by shocks just as great: the oil crisis, runaway inflation, Japanese competition, declining US industry.

Hart sees all these as deep, fundamental problems for America. But he also sees them as bright opportunities for the nation to move ahead to a new era. He likes to talk about such challenges:

''We have less than 10 years,'' he notes, ''to create 20 million jobs, twice as many as we brought into being between 1973 and 1980. We must grow at a rate even faster than we did during the boom years after World War II.''

Then he adds another stark fact:

''In the frost belt, in the past decade, for every 100 new jobs, 118 disappeared.''

All this is serious stuff - perhaps too serious to hold the interest of election audiences for very long. He speaks about them in a quiet voice, a voice perhaps more suited to a one-on-one interview on TV than a noisy campaign rally.

Hart's studied approach has led some to question whether he really has the passion to lead the Democratic Party, the fire inside to excite crowds and, in the long run, to beat President Reagan in 1984. His strong interest in defense and his lack of flaming oratory have led to comparisons to the late Sen. Henry M. Jackson of Washington. One wag, in fact, suggested Hart was a sort of ''Scoop Jackson with blow-dried hair.''

More often, however, Hart has been lumped together with a group called ''neoliberals'' - mostly young Democrats such as Sen. Paul E. Tsongas of Massachusetts who have fashioned a ''new ideas'' approach to today's problems.

Hart rejects the ''neoliberal'' label. Propping up his cowboy boots on a small table in his office, he says that the best label he has been able to come up with to describe his views is a ''Western, independent, Jeffersonian Democrat.''

When one analyzes Hart's views, there is a question whether he can be simply lumped into a single camp - liberal, neoliberal, or any other.

For example, he opposes central planning of the economy; he rejects wage and price controls as having ''little, if any, lasting benefit''; he spurns both ''extremes'' in the free trade vs. protectionism debate; he favors salaries for the military equal to those paid in the civilian sector; he supports higher subsidies to the Export-Import Bank to make US goods competitive abroad.

In addition to issues, there is, of course, the question of what kind of man Gary Hart is. Is he strong enough, experienced enough, thoughtful enough, to lead America through a four-year term?

Political columnist David Broder, who has known Hart for about 13 years, calls him an ''inner-directed man.'' In the Senate, Mr. Broder says, Hart is known as a loner, a bit aloof, and not too persuasive.

Before his Senate days, Hart was a lawyer in Denver. He gained national recognition when he became chief organizer for Sen. George McGovern's presidential race in 1972.

At Yale University, Hart studied religious philosophy for three years - an experience he says has helped to shape his views on the environment and other subjects. He is not, however, an active churchgoer today.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.