Political activists say Iowa is not fertile soil for Hart comeback

Gary Hart's second plunge into the 1988 presidential campaign has caused a ripple in Iowa - but hardly a favorable one. In this early caucus state, where organizing party regulars is considered the key to victory, former Hart campaign supporters are not flocking back to his campaign.

``Gary Who?'' jests Lorraine Voles, a former Hart worker who is now press secretary for Democratic hopeful Michael Dukakis.

``We're proud of what we did for Gary,'' adds Patrick Mitchell, a former Hart official who is now Iowa coordinator for Democratic contender Paul Simon. ``But we're 100 percent for Simon. ... We look forward to waging a campaign against him.''

Hart, a former United States senator from Colorado, was widely considered the front-running Democrat last spring. But he withdrew from the race following news reports of a liaison with Miami model Donna Rice. In announcing his decision Tuesday to reenter the race, he did not mention the incident. But it may dampen Hart's prospects of winning over voters.

Certainly that appears to be so in Iowa, which next February will provide the first real test of the candidates' popularity.

Hart had 29 percent support -- more than any other candidate -- in a nationwide USA Today-Cable News Network ``instant poll,'' but 41 percent of those surveyed Tuesday said he should not have re-entered the race.

[Also, a New Hampshire survey conducted by KRC Communications Research for Boston's WBZ-TV and the Boston Herald, had 53 percent saying Hart should not be a candidate.]

``I can't believe that he's going to find any support,'' says John Chrystal, a prominent Democrat and chairman of Bankers Trust Company in Des Moines. ``Iowa Democrats may change their minds, but they're not yo-yos.''

``I would not rule out supporting anybody,'' says Dixon Terry, chairman of the League of Rural Voters, an uncommitted Democrat. ``But I think his personal problems, which became political problems, represent an almost insurmountable obstacle.''

Although spokesmen for the various Democratic candidates said they had no plans to switch campaign strategies because of Hart, in the short term it may be unavoidable, says Hugh Winebrenner, a Drake University professor and author on the state's caucuses.

``Clearly, the news is going to be dominated by Gary Hart for the next several days,'' he says. That certainly takes attention away from the rest of the campaigns.

Some Democrats say Hart's reemergence will trivialize all the campaigns for the Democratic nomination, says Barb Leach, a former vice-chair of the state Democratic Party.

On Tuesday morning, ``I started getting these incredulous calls,'' she recalls. ``Everybody was just going: `Why is he doing this and who will support him?'''

Because Iowa is a caucus state, presidential campaigns rely on party activists to drum up support. Since many of Hart's activists have already signed on to other campaigns, winning Iowa will be an uphill struggle.

``Clearly, he'll be at a disadvantage,'' says J.P. Steffen, caucus convention director for the Iowa Democratic Party. ``It's completely an organizational test in Iowa.''

Hart may be too late to do much in Iowa - and some news reports suggest he may not expend too much effort here.

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