The calls came in this week to state Sen. Gary Hart's district office in Woodland Hills. Every caller was supportive--don't let the furor force you out of the 1988 presidential race.
"One man even called from Florida and said, 'I love your stands on issues. Hang in there,' " said Elaine Miller, Hart's administrative assistant.
This is the way it has long been for Hart, a Democrat from Santa Barbara who often has been confused with former U. S. Sen. Gary Hart, particularly after the Colorado politician shot to national fame during the 1984 presidential campaign.
Until this week, the coincidence had been a plus. The California politician found that he got the best tables at restaurants and penthouse suites in hotels when reservations were made for "Sen. Hart." He even considered seeking the 1986 Democratic nomination for governor--a race that seemed feasible in part because his name had become a hot political property.
But, this week, the name Gary Hart was in unpleasant headlines nationwide over stories about the presidential candidate's purported extramarital relationships, stories that led to his campaign's sudden demise.
"There was some joking about the name," said Joe Caves, state Sen. Hart's legislative assistant, "particularly when there are headlines . . . alleging infidelity. 'What did your wife think about the headlines today?' Or, 'how did you explain that one to your wife?' "
However, the California senator's reaction to the week's events was one of sadness, Caves said. The two Harts, whose political views and physical appearance bear some resemblance, are friends and mutual supporters. State Sen. Hart was an early backer of the other Hart's 1988 presidential bid.
During many interviews in his Sacramento office Friday morning, Hart told reporters that presidential candidate Hart had made "an important contribution to the political process" by energizing the "baby-boom generation" as a political force, Caves said. Hart, whose district includes part of the West San Fernando Valley, refused further interviews after noon Friday, and could not be reached later in the day.
Caves maintains that Gary Hart's stillborn presidential campaign is not a blow to Gary Hart's aspirations in California politics--even though the state senator's name recognition soared in public-opinion polls after the 1984 campaign.
"We never viewed it as a completely positive thing," Caves said of the name coincidence. "Not having Gary Hart of Colorado on a presidential ballot avoids the fallout that occurs in any presidential campaign."