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Analysts Uncertain if Hart Can Play Role in Campaign

September 10, 1987|KEITH LOVE | Times Political Writer

Former Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart will deliver a speech in Philadelphia today after having made a television appearance Tuesday night that he hopes will allow him to put personal scandal behind him.

But questions persisted Wednesday as political professionals assessed Hart's statement that he is not a candidate but wants to discuss domestic and foreign policy while the 1988 campaign goes on around him.

It is a case unprecedented in American politics. As one observer put it Wednesday, "Hart stepped out of the race but he won't get off the stage."

Finally Said 'I'm Out'

On ABC-TV's "Nightline" Tuesday night, Hart said finally "I'm out" of the 1988 race after seeming to equivocate several times.

He said also that he had not been faithful to his wife but refused to say whether he had had sexual relations with Miami model Donna Rice. It was his appearances with Rice several times in the spring that led to adverse publicity and Hart's withdrawal from the Democratic race on May 8.

"He answered the question on adultery in general, but he made it clear he will never discuss specific people no matter how many times reporters ask him," Hart adviser John Emerson said. "Now, I think, he can begin to get this behind him."

Some political analysts who watched the Hart television appearance disagreed with that assessment, however, saying that Hart continued to look like a man with something to hide and that he opened himself to ridicule by stating that he hoped to lead a constructive debate on how much privacy public officials should be allowed.

For the most part, spokesmen for the other Democratic candidates limited themselves to bland assessments of Hart's performance, and other political professionals were wary of criticizing Hart on the record.

But one who did, California media consultant Kam Kuwata, summed up what the others were saying privately.

"Gary Hart has no credibility on the privacy issue because of his behavior," Kuwata said. "If he wants to contribute to the 1988 debate, he had better choose another topic."

The debate among political observers Wednesday seemed to be shifting from the Rice affair to what impact, if any, Hart will have on the 1988 race as he attempts to, in his words, "contribute to the debate" as a non-candidate.

It is a particularly vexing question at this time because, with the election more than a year away, none of the Democratic candidates have gained national stature.

At one point, Hart told "Nightline" host Ted Koppel, "I've been given some talents, and what I have realized in the last three months is that I cannot waste those talents. And I've got to figure out a way to contribute."

Washington consultant Robert Squier, who is neutral in the 1988 race, said, "I think the deal Gary was offering the public Tuesday night was: 'If you will let me continue to talk about my ideas, I promise I won't run for President.' "

Squier added that Hart may attract interest in his speeches "because the one thing he has not lost is his celebrity. Celebrity in America is a big draw."

But other observers said they were not sure how many people would pay attention to the policies Hart wants to talk about if there is no longer a possibility that he could put them into effect in the White House.

"The notion that Gary Hart will find a way to wedge himself into the presidential debate without being a candidate or holding a national office is pretty far-fetched," said Michael McCurry, communications director for former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Reflects Disdain

As for whether Hart will simply become a distraction in the 1988 race, a campaign worker for Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, another Democratic presidential candidate, reflected the disdain many of the campaigns expressed privately for Hart.

"Surely he won't go to Iowa or New Hampshire," said the Gephardt aide, who requested anonymity. "If he showed up outside the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Des Moines, that would definitely be a distraction."

Hart's comments on adultery stir the capital of political gossip. View, Page 1.

Howard Rosenberg reviews ABC interview. Calendar, Page 1.

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