Hart: Ideas need a champion. Former candidate says he's back to push agenda, but others point to money factor

Gary Hart had a million-and-one reasons to get back into the 1988 presidential campaign. The one reason was Mr. Hart's burning desire to be part of the national debate over America's future in the post-Reagan years.

The million reasons were all dollars - federal matching dollars - that Hart may be able to use to pay off his massive campaign debts once he gets back into the race.

Hart, who dropped his campaign in May amid a controversy over his relationship with model Donna Rice, filed papers yesterday to qualify for the New Hampshire primary.

His move drew surprised, and sometimes skeptical, responses from other campaigns and from pundits.

It was a jolt to the six major Democratic candidates. It muddies the race and, in the view of some analysts, increases the possibility that Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York could become a candidate. At the same time, there is widespread doubt that Hart can again be a serious contender.

Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution, said: ``I think there's a possibility that Hart is preparing to be his generation's Harold Stassen, the old warhorse who cares too much about running to ever quit.''

But Richard Scammon, director of the Elections Research Center, saw at least a glimmer of hope for Hart:

``He could come back. But we have to remember that this is a different Gary Hart. It is one who has quit, and who was hauled up before the jury of public opinion. It's not the same bright young man who came out of the West in 1984.''

Hart, a former United States senator from Colorado, was the front-runner when he quit last spring. Since then, none of the six major Democratic candidates have caught fire.

Hart explained his reentry in a brief, outdoor announcement in Concord, N.H.:

``The Democratic Party has good candidates for 1988. But when I suspended my campaign last spring, I believed other national leaders would enter this race. And I hoped that my ideas for strategic investment economics, for military reform, and for enlightened engagement would be adopted and put forward by others.

``After more than six months, neither of these things has happened.''

Hart's effort to jump-start his campaign two months before the New Hampshire primary faces three major hurdles: lack of staff, lack of money, and questions about his personal relationships.

Donald Simon, who served as Hart's campaign counsel, is now working for the presidential campaign of Sen. Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee. Mr. Simon says:

``A lot of the Hart people have chosen new sides. A number of them have said they would not go back at this point. It would be very difficult for him to reestablish the campaign the way it was.''

Money will also be a burden. Although $1 million could pour into Hart's coffers in January from federal matching funds, he has leftover debts of $1.1 million from his 1984 campaign, and more than $50,000 in bills from his 1988 campaign. Even when he was leading the field, Hart had trouble raising cash.

Hart and his family are also braced for a new round of articles and TV reports about his personal life. It has been reported that some news organizations withheld information that could have been damaging because Hart withdrew. Those reports now could surface.

Meanwhile, Republicans are gleeful. William Feltus, a GOP strategist, says it is particularly bad news for the six other Democratic candidates.

Hart's decision is further evidence that none of the six have been able to break out of the pack, Mr. Feltus says. Nor is there an indication that any of the three strongest Democrats - the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Gov. Michael Dukakis, and Sen. Paul Simon - has begun to generate widespread support, says Feltus.

Instead, the Hart news could turn the Democratic race into a ``sideshow'' for the next month, with speculation about his private life overshadowing any serious discussions about the campaign.

Hart's former campaign manager, Bill Dixon, told the Associated Press that Hart was well aware that his decision could spark ridicule and rekindle unpleasant stories.

``He and his family have decided that Jefferson was right, it's never a mistake to let the people decide who should be their leader through the ballot box,'' Mr. Dixon said. ``It's just a tremendous act of personal courage. They know what will flow from this; they know some people will laugh, ridicule them. But that's the principle. Let the people decide.''

Bruce Babbitt, one of the six presidential contenders, said: ``We all woke up this morning with a surprise under the Christmas tree named Gary Hart.'' The former Arizona governor said that Hart ``either will be a front-runner or a ghost of Christmas past in a matter of days.''

The Dickensian reference was appropriate. Hart himself said in September: ``I am not a candidate for president and I have no plans to become one. ... I'm not some Dickens figure, believe me. ... I'm not hovering, I'm not playing games.''

Yet Rep. Tony Coelho, the House majority whip, suggests that Hart's decision was mostly to get the federal matching money (about 70 percent of his reason) and partly to make a comeback (30 percent).

Hart immediately tried to turn attention back to his big three issues: economic revival, military reform, and US-Soviet relations. He told the audience in Concord: ``My policies can be summarized in three words: invest, reform, and engage.

``At home, we have to have a policy of strategic investments that rebuild our nation's economic foundation: our schools, our factories, our farms, ... public works, and our research centers.

``We're going to have to reform our military institutions, provide an effective conventional force while we drastically reduce our reliance on nuclear weapons.

``We're going to have to use the force of change in the world, of nationalism, of world markets, and of dispersed power, as the basis for a new internationalist foreign policy that I call enlightened engagement.''

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