Hart looks unbeatable in Connecticut

Connecticut boosters of Walter F. Mondale are counting heavily on his becoming a late bloomer in the state's Democratic presidential preference garden.

With Tuesday's primary fast approaching they are rallying their forces to try to overcome what veteran local political observers see as a long head start by Colorado Sen. Gary Hart's supporters.

The results of a statewide voter-preference poll by the University of Connecticut's Institute of Public Inquiry, published Sunday in the Hartford Courant, showed Mr. Hart with 48 percent; Mr. Mondale, 28 percent; the Rev. Jesse Jackson, 5 percent; with 19 percent undecided.

Tuesday's Connecticut balloting, with 60 delegate seats at next July's Democratic National Convention at stake, is the week's only primary. It comes just seven days before the vote in neighboring New York State.

A Hart victory in the Nutmeg State, even a narrow one, is seen by his backers as particularly necessary in light of the momentum Mondale has gained since his big Illinois primary win March 20.

Unlike New Hampshire and most of the other states where the Colorado senator finished on top, political independents are ineligible to cast ballots here. Only those enrolled in the party by March 13 can vote. This could be a disadvantage to Senator Hart since his support has come not only from nonestablishment Democrats but also from newcomers to the party.

Until last Friday, when the former vice-president touched base here for the first time since December, there was little to indicate he or his national strategists were concerned about the potential importance of the Connecticut outcome.

They may have assumed that the state - despite the backing of its labor leaders and most of its political heavyweights, including Gov. William A. O'Neill - was pretty much beyond reach.

The opening of a Mondale campaign headquarters in Hartford last Thursday, only five days before the primary, may be too little and too late, some supporters suggest. Robin White, coordinator of the field operation in the Hartford area, laments that brochures and other campaign literature ''are at a premium'' and there are no handouts keyed directly to Connecticut voters. ''We are reaching people by phone urging them to get out and vote for Mondale,'' she reports.

Making clear her resolve to ''help in any way possible'' to turn Connecticut into a Mondale state, Gina Glantz, the former vice-president's national campaign field director, concedes that ''Senator Hart probably will do very well here.''

Donald Meikle, executive director of the Connecticut Democratic State Committee, although not about to take sides in the primary, shares that assessment, adding, ''Personally I would be surprised if Hart does not come out on top here.''

Jonathan Pelto, Hart's Connecticut campaign coordinator, is not about to claim victory for his candidate. ''We still have a lot more work to do,'' he asserts. His youth-oriented operation, made up of unpaid full-time volunteers augmented recently by a few staff members from the Hart campaign in New Hampshire, has, over the past week, made more than 60,000 phone calls and distributed 200,000 pieces of campaign literature to Nutmeg State Democrats, he reports.

Several prominent state legislators have been welcomed into the Hart fold, including House majority leader John Groppo, who had been backing US Sen. John H. Glenn before he withdrew from the presidential campaign March 16.

Campaign workers for Jesse Jackson, encouraged by his 21 percent support in the Illinois primary and his strength in the Virginia caucuses over the weekend, are pushing for a strong showing in this state, where their candidate has the backing of Hartford Mayor Thirman Milner, the city's first popularly elected black chief executive.

Mr. Jackson, who spent the weekend campaigning in the major urban centers across the state, is to continue Monday, winding up with an early-evening rally in Hartford.

Senator Hart has also devoted much time to Connecticut over the past several days, including press conferences and other activities in the southwestern part of the state last Thursday and in Hartford last Friday. In Greenwich, at the Mianus River Bridge where three people were killed last June when a large portion of span collapsed, he called for increased federal funding for repair of the nation's decaying infrastructure.

US Sen. Christopher Dodd (D) of Connecticut, a Hart endorsee, has been with the Colorado presidential contender on the hustings around the state.

The Colorado senator is to spend much of Monday campaigning in the New Haven and Greenwich areas and is to wind up his Connecticut campaign early Tuesday morning, greeting workers at a plant gate in Groton.

Mondale backers have convinced their candidate to return for a final day of campaigning in New Haven today. The highlight of the former vice-president's two-hour visit to the state late Friday was a Windsor Locks reception hosted by Governor O'Neill.

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