FORMER Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm leans back in a chair in his 47th-floor law office in Denver and sums up his feelings on the reentry of Gary Hart - his longtime friend - into the presidential race. ``I think there is no question that Gary has a sense of destiny about himself,'' says the lawyer and lecturer in pinstripe suit and western boots. ``But the overriding reason he is back in is a monomaniacal desire for vindication.''
Part way across the country, in a deli in downtown Los Angeles, John Emerson, another friend, has a different view. ``The way Gary is running this campaign goes right at the character issue,'' says the former top Hart campaign aide over a bowl of fruit. ``He is Rocky staying in to the 15th round even though he has taken severe body blows. Americans love an underdog.''
In the pageant of American politics, Gary Hart the ``maverick,'' Gary Hart the ``outsider,'' Gary Hart the ``antipolitician'' has always evoked his share of anger and adulation.
But ever since his dramatic return to the race in December, after an equally abrupt withdrawal in May, he has cemented his position as one of the most unusual and controversial figures in contemporary politics.
To his loyalists, he is a profile in courage - a man who, despite making a mistake with model Donna Rice, has political integrity and the clearest vision among the candidates of where the country should be going.
To his detractors, which includes some longtime friends and much of the Democratic Party establishment, his bid is a self-indulgent act that adds to questions about his credibility and fitness to be president.
There seems to be no less ambivalence in the body politic. Hart continues to fare well in some nationwide polls, but he also receives high negative ratings. On the stump as the unpackaged outsider, the candidate often draws large crowds.
But political pros point out that celebrity status doesn't necessarily mean votes. They still consider his candidacy a long shot, given a skeletal campaign organization, slim budget, and new concern about alleged campaign-finance violations.
``It's more the story line of a novel than real life,'' says Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution. ``Suddenly you get back in, take a populist stand, thumb your nose at the establishment. But that doesn't translate into delegates.''
Hart says he relaunched his campaign because of the dearth of discussion about ideas. Judging the former Colorado senator by his own standard, new ideas, most analysts give him mixed marks: He has ``beef'' but no corner on the meat market.
He is credited for being an adept packager of ideas, with a keen ability to synthesize and articulate policies. In foreign policy, he often espouses a more systematic view of the world than other candidates. On certain issues - notably military reform - he has been at the cutting edge since his years in the Senate. Some consider his ideas ``substantial.''
Yet few of them are novel. While some may have been new in 1984, the more interesting ones have found outlets through the other candidates.
Hart, for instance, understands the nuances of nuclear strategy, but so does Sen. Albert Gore Jr. To help stanch the budget deficit, Hart has called for an oil-import fee, excise taxes on luxury items, and higher levies on the wealthy, proposals that can be found in some of the other candidates' portfolios.
HE has come up with some interesting ideas on job training, education, and economic development as part of an ``economic restructuring'' plan. But industrial retraining is a favorite theme of Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt and Illinois Sen. Paul Simon.
``Gary's issues are well repre-sented,'' says David Dreyer, who was Hart's national policy director until the candidate pulled out in May. ``Not as well as he or I would like. But they're out there.''
It is perhaps fitting that Hart is back on the hustings trying to reach voters' hearts through their heads. He has always seemed to feel better behind the fortress of his ideas.
During his 1984 bid, when questions arose about his ``aloofness'' and ``remoteness'' as a senator, a Hart statement surfaced that today looks prophetic. ``I'm a disciple of the school that says a lot of people in public life are really shy, reticent people,'' he once said. ``They manage to succeed in spite of their personality rather than because of it.''
In his 12-year Senate career, Hart's legacy was one of pondering rather than politicking. He sought to rethink conventional wisdom, fashioning ideas into overall theories about various systems of taxation, a reshaped military establishment, restructuring the economy. He builta reputation of being intelligent, independent, and well informed.
Yet not many of his ideas were translated into law. Idealistic and introspective, Hart often eschewed the horse-trading that is necessary to push a program through.
``His natural style was not backslapping,'' one former aide says.
A former Senate staff member adds: ``You can't find the Hart bill. Was he a great legislator? No. Was he a distinguished senator? Yes.''
Some contend that Hart's disdain for politicking would hamper his ability to carry out an agenda and work with Congress, should he ever make it to the Oval Office.
As a Colorado academic who has followed his career puts it: To be an effective leader ``you have to be able to like politics. Gary doesn't.''
Moreover, even friends think his governability has been undermined by the Donna Rice incident. They wonder how a man about whom former Sen. Barry Goldwater once said, ``... I don't think I ever met a man in politics any more honest than he is, or any more moral,'' he could exercise authority when his own credibility has been questioned.
``I think it is tougher for him at this point to make a call for sacrifice and retain moral credibility after the experience of the last eight months,'' says Mr. Dreyer. ``A victim is not a leader.''
Yet others discount such theories. They note that anyone who wins a presidential election could marshal support in the White House.
``At his best he is interested in the fine cut of critically important issues,'' says a former legislative aide. ``He is insatiable about those and then it's, `Please, God, take care of the rest.'''
Hart is more problem solver than ideologue. Although he had one of the most liberal voting records in the Senate, he usually steered an independent course. For instance, some people thought that, as chairman of the Senate panel that investigated the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, Hart would turn the proceedings into an antinuclear harangue. Instead, he ran what was considered an evenhanded probe.
In his 1984 presidential bid, he cast himself as the man who would move his party and the country into a new age, away from the more traditional interest-group liberalism represented by Walter Mondale. While his voice was distinctive then, analysts say that today it is less so in a field well stocked with technocrats.
In fashioning ideas, Hart has been a conceptualizer rather than a consensus builder. Though he may consult a wide variety of people, associates say his style is to digest what's written, formulate ideas, and then throw them to experts.
``Gary's way is deciding what he is going to do and then bouncing it off people and making sure he is on track,'' says Buie Seawell, a former legislative aide and longtime confidant. ``He is not so unilateral that you can't convince him otherwise. He simply starts from within. He is very inner-directed.''
FOLLOWING your own compass, of course, can be a sign of independence and integrity. Carried to extremes, it can be interpreted as arrogance or worse. Which raises again the so-called character issue and Hart's latest quest for the presidency.
To his sharpest critics, Hart's fraternizing with the Miami model at a Washington town house and on a boat off Florida and his explanations afterward were part of a pattern of deceit, questionable judgment, and lack of self-discipline that makes him unfit to lead America. Critics include in that pattern Hart's fuzzy explanation about why he changed his name (he had been Hartpence before 1961), a discrepancy regarding his age, other alleged ``womanizing'' incidents, and a somewhat cavalier attitude about past campaign debts.
To others, such as former Governor Lamm, the Rice incident was an aberration, but egregious enough that Hart should have sat out the 1988 race. But to his loyalists, the Rice incident was only a personal mistake, for which Hart has apologized numerous times, that in no way affects his public life.
Gary Hart, the jug-eared boy who grew up in a strict Nazarene household in Kansas, who studied religion and law at Yale, who worked the political vineyards for John and Robert Kennedy, who captained George McGovern's successful grass-roots nomination drive in 1972, says let the people decide.
They will, starting next Monday in Iowa.
Last in a series.
Here's the beef
IS Gary Hart the disciple of ``new ideas''?
Not really, analysts say. He is adroit at being able to fit single ideas into unified theories - ``stand issues on their side,'' as a former associate puts it. He has thought through certain things since his early Senate days, such as arms control and restructuring the military.
But most of his ideas are not considered particularly novel, nor are they necessarily unrepresented in the Democratic field, analysts say.
Hart himself says it is his approach that is different. On the stump, he carries a 94-page book - ``Reform, Hope, and the Human Factor: Ideas for National Restructuring'' - that outlines some of his major views. Among them:
Military reform. A founder of the Military Reform Caucus in Congress, Hart has as a basic thesis that the size of the defense budget isn't important. It is ``content'' that matters, he says.
He wants cheaper weapons and more effective weapons. He thinks the Navy is too enamored of big aircraft carriers that are vulnerable to Soviet attack. Instead, he proposes expanding the fleet of hard-to-detect submarines. He also advocates more reliance on rapid-maneuver warfare rather than trying to match the Soviets weapon for weapon.
While some of these ideas have worked their way into the defense debate, ``the Pentagon has pretty much ignored them,'' says William Kaufmann, an analyst at the Brookings Institution.
Education. To improve performance in America's classrooms, Hart wants higher teacher salaries but would couple them with stricter accountability standards. Teachers would be subject to competency tests and in-class evaluations.
He suggests lengthening the school year, and he urges a national program of voluntary national service, under which young people could be enlisted to help combat illiteracy and make other contributions to benefit the country.
He also calls for more adult education and retraining, more foreign-language instruction, and more investment in research.
Economics. Hart has outlined a budget package that would reduce the deficit to $41 billion by 1993. It calls for cuts in military spending of $44 billion over the next five years through military reforms. He would trim farm subsidies and travel by federal officials.
On the revenue side, he, like Bruce Babbitt, has come out strongly for tax increases. He would increase levies on business and wealthy Americans, and place a fee on imported oil. Taxes would be increased on tobacco and liquor and certain luxury items. Levies would go up, too, on social security benefits received by the well-to-do.
Some of this money would go into a program to revitalize the economy he terms the ``strategic investment initiative.'' It calls for higher spending for education, job training, child care, and roads and sewers.
He lauds the idea of employee stock ownership plans. On trade, Hart is a critic of tariffs and quotas.
Foreign policy. He touts what he calls ``enlightened engagement,'' a policy that stresses reliance on economic and diplomatic initiatives in foreign affairs rather than military force.
Hart has laid out seven general principles to guide decisions on the use of US military force. These include a clear definition of objectives, a stipulation that the operation pass the ``test of simplicity'' and be ``achievable in operation,'' and that it have public support.
He has called for the US to look beyond the US-Soviet struggle and turn more attention to Latin American, Africa, and Asia. He says economics should be elevated to a ``primary instrument of foreign policy,'' that major allies should be treated as equals, and that the US should encourage more open societies throughout the developing world.
The poor. Hart calls for a ``reciprocal-responsibility'' between the government and the needy. He thinks welfare should serve as a ``bridge to work'' which would include, if needed, public-service employment for welfare recipients.
`They have come together through this ordeal'
ADVERSITY can be either a wedge or a unifier in relationships.
In the case of the Harts, friends say the events of the past eight months have brought the family closer together.
On the stump, Lee Hart is almost always at her husband's side. ``They have come together through this whole ordeal,'' says one close family friend.
Their two children, John and Andrea, have taken a break from college to campaign for their father. They were angry when he decided to pull out last May in a cloud of suspicion over his dealings with Miami model Donna Rice.
Lee was behind the reentry, too, but more reserved about it, knowing the media scrutiny it would bring.
``She would rather be doing something else,'' says Andrea of her mother. ``But she supports him 100 percent and will do everything she can to help him.''
Friends say she believes enough in his candidacy to sacrifice her privacy. They also contend she is a loyal wife who is able to forgive her husband's mistakes.
In a ``60 Minutes'' interview, Gary Hart said: ``One of the things that made me the angriest this year was when people said, `Well, she's going to stick with her husband, because she's a dishrag.' No one who knows her would call her that or suggest she was weak in any way.''
Friends echo that sentiment. ``Lee is a very tough lady,'' says one. ``She is strong. She is every bit the activist that he is.''
Born in rural Kansas, Lee, like Gary, attended Bethany Nazarene College in Oklahoma. They were married shortly after graduation.
She has worked in the past as a high school English teacher and remains interested in education.
Over the years she has been an active campaigner. She is the more gregarious of the two and better at pressing the flesh.
``There is no shyness in Lee Hart,'' says Buie Seawell, chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party and a longtime family friend. ``She loves to politick.''