CONCORD, N. H. — Former Sen. Gary Hart stunned the political world Tuesday by re-entering the race for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination seven months after he angrily quit the campaign over reports that he had spent a night with a Miami model.
"Let's let the people decide," Hart, accompanied by his wife, Lee, and son John, told more than 100 reporters and TV crew members and about 20 cheering supporters gathered on the Statehouse steps. "I'm back in the race."
Moments later, the tanned and smiling Colorado Democrat handed over a $1,000 cashier's check from the United Bank of Denver to the New Hampshire secretary of state and formally filed his candidacy for the first-in-the-nation primary next Feb. 16. The check was signed by Hart and dated Monday. The state filing deadline is Friday.
Hart's announcement dumbfounded most political figures and campaign officials here and in Iowa, where the Feb. 8 caucuses are the first major test of the campaign. Most gave Hart little chance of recovering his campaign or his reputation. And the candidate himself acknowledged that his strategy would be, of necessity, unorthodox.
"This will not be like any campaign you have ever seen because I am going directly to the people," Hart said, reading from a statement on a yellow pad under pewter-gray skies.
"I don't have a national headquarters or staff," he continued. "I don't have any money. I don't have pollsters or consultants or media advisers or political endorsements. But I have something even better. I have the power of ideas, and I can govern this country."
'Set of New Ideas'
Hart said he had "a sense of new direction and a set of new ideas" for the campaign. "My policies can be summarized in three words: invest, reform and engage."
In a brief interview, Hart said he had decided over the weekend in Denver to resume his campaign "to keep the issues alive and to provide an alternative" to the six other announced Democratic candidates. "It was a family decision," Lee Hart agreed.
Hart, who beat Walter F. Mondale in the 1984 New Hampshire primary and almost bested him for the nomination, appeared to bask in the cameras and lights once again. He had no immediate schedule, he said. "We're kind of making it up as we go along," he said with a grin.
Hart faces daunting, if not impossible, problems in trying to organize enough support in enough states to file delegate slates before the states' primary deadlines. He said he would file in "as many as possible. It's late, but we'll try."
At least one local television station, WMUR-TV, planned to poll residents overnight to get a sense of how voters now view Hart and his chances, according to David Moore, a pollster at the University of New Hampshire.
"I don't think it's going to change things a lot here," Moore said. "I don't think people will give him serious consideration."
"People are not going to forget," said J. Joseph Grandmaison, chairman of the state Democratic Party. "The question is whether people can look at his personal life in a perspective that doesn't block out everything else."
Only one of Hart's former New Hampshire supporters publicly endorsed him Tuesday. Concord lawyer Ned Helms, who had backed a rival candidate, Sen. Albert Gore Jr., after Hart withdrew in May, signed back up Tuesday.
"I couldn't conceive of working against him," Helms said.
Staying With Babbitt
But Susan Calegari, Hart's 1988 campaign manager until he dropped out, said she was sticking with former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt. "I'm friends with Hart," she said. "It's hard."
Calegari said Hart's 1984 deputy state campaign manager, Susan Casey, had called her from Denver several times in recent weeks to discuss Hart's options. "I think it became the 11th hour because of the filing deadline," she said. "If he was going to reach out to voters, the place was New Hampshire. The time was now or never."
Steve Cancian, a former Hart supporter who now manages the Rev. Jesse Jackson's campaign in the state, said he would not switch. "Hart is a good candidate," he said. "Jackson is a better one."
Pushing through the crush of reporters, Hart and his wife attempted to greet voters on Main Street in Concord, and then at the Pheasant Lane Mall in Nashua. They met a decidedly mixed reception.
'More Guts Than Brains'
"I told him, 'You got more guts than brains,' " said a woman who refused to identify herself at The Capitol Craftsman store. "People don't have that short a memory."
"I think it's sort of a joke," said Kim Matthews, a clerk at a Concord magazine shop called Bookland, after Hart had left. "It's crazy."
"I don't think he should be running," said Everette Holton, a 20-year-old student. "There are enough good candidates."
"He's dead politically," said Paul Thibodeaux, owner of the Art Rug shop. "I'm very disappointed."
Won't Discuss Sex Scandal