WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd summed up the political world's reaction to word that Gary Hart was getting back into the Democratic presidential race today this way: "It's a crazy old world, isn't it?"
"We all woke up this morning with a surprise under the Christmas tree named Gary Hart," said former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, one of six announced candidates for the Democratic nomination. "He will either be a front-runner or a ghost of Christmas Past in a matter of days."
Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), another candidate, said: "1987 has been a mighty strange year. But I believe when we get to the actual voting, people will make sensible choices, and 1988 will be a Democratic year."
"Sen. Gary Hart has every right to re-enter the race for President of the United States," said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, another rival for the nomination. "The American people will determine at the polls whether his re-entry was the right thing to do," Jackson said.
Simon 'Sensed a Void'
Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), who leads in polls in Iowa, said: "I entered this race before Gary Hart withdrew. I decided to run because I sensed a void."
Democratic National Chairman Paul Kirk said that Hart did not speak with him about the decision and that he was "very surprised by it, to tell you the truth."
"I had said initially after the story of his withdrawal from the race that I thought he did the right thing," Kirk said. "And I haven't heard from him yet in terms of the reasons for getting back in. . . . "
Michigan Gov. James J. Blanchard, head of the Democratic governors, said: "Nothing would surprise me in this election. I don't know what to say."
Hart's former campaign manager, Bill Dixon, said in Madison, Wis., that Hart and his family are aware the move will spark ridicule and rekindle unpleasant stories. "It's just a tremendous act of personal courage," he said.
'Takes a Lot of Courage'
Hart supporters and opponents alike agreed that his decision is likely to trigger a new round of attention to Hart's personal life. Disclosure of Hart's relationship with Florida model Donna Rice came after Hart had long been dogged by rumors of "womanizing."
"If he can endure what we all anticipate he will have to endure, then it takes a lot of courage on his part," said Dawn Alexander, former deputy press secretary of Hart's campaign.
"The criticism he's withstood couldn't possibly get worse. Even Johnny Carson and David Letterman must be through with him by now," she said.
Pat Mitchell, who worked in Iowa for Hart in 1984 and earlier this year before joining Illinois Sen. Paul Simon's campaign when Hart dropped out, said: "It's too bad. It's not good for the process and it's not good for him. I think it's horribly self-indulgent."