Gary Hart put personal considerations above the needs of his party when he jumped back into the 1988 presidential race, says Paul Kirk, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Kirk, speaking at a breakfast meeting of reporters yesterday, said former Senator Hart, in returning to the campaign, also ``indicated that the other [Democratic] candidates somehow were not worthy of carrying the agenda ahead for the party.''
Kirk added: ``I disagree with that.''
The chairman insisted, however, that any harm Hart causes the Democratic Party will be ``very short term.''
He said: ``For a short period of time, there is a distraction from other candidates who've been out there talking about substantive issues. And I think all that, frankly, will self-correct. ... The people are going to sort it all out.''
Kirk and other Democratic leaders clearly have cause for concern. Hart quickly took over the No. 1 position, or was close to it, in overnight polls this week in Iowa, New Hampshire, and nationwide.
But the polls also show that Hart is unpopular with many voters. An ABC News poll, for example, found that 49 percent of the public has an unfavorable view of Hart.
A survey in New Hampshire commissioned by Presidential Campaign Hotline found that 42 percent of Democratic voters said Hart's reentry ``benefited the Republicans most.'' Further, 21 percent of the state's Democrats said they would not vote for Hart for president ``under any circumstances.''
Hotline analysts concluded: ``If national [polling] figures are similar and irreversible, Hart is probably not electable next November.''
Democratic leaders now face this stark reality: The two leaders in the party's 1988 campaign are Hart and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Between them, they have approximately 40 to 50 percent of the party's vote. Yet Hart and Mr. Jackson have the highest negative ratings of any Democratic candidates in the campaign.
The next closest challenger appears to be Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, who gets only 9 to 15 percent nationwide.
Said Kirk: ``Voters, public officials, party officials will look seriously at the electability question. My own view of it: I think Gary Hart on that question has an uphill battle.''
The first major test for all the candidates will come in the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 8.
Hart has no organization there. But a poll on Wednesday found Hart at 22 percent, moving ahead of the former leader, Sen. Paul Simon, who had 17 percent. The same Iowa poll gave Mr. Dukakis 14 percent, Rep. Richard Gephardt 14 percent, Jackson 4 percent, former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt 2 percent, and Sen. Albert Gore Jr. 1 percent. Twenty-six percent were undecided.
The news in New Hampshire, scene of the first primary Feb. 16, was less encouraging for Hart. Three quick polls there (by the Boston Globe, Peter Hart [no relation to the candidate], and KRC) put Dukakis ahead with 30, 36, and 39 percent, respectively. Hart was second with 21, 23, and 19 percent. Simon was third with 13, 10, and 10 percent.