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Hart Stresses Policy Ideas, Downplays Lack of Funds

December 17, 1987|ROBERT GILLETTE | Times Staff Writer

DOVER, N.H. — Former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart, testing his reborn campaign for the presidency Wednesday, stressed the policy ideas that he says impelled him to try again and deflected questions about how he will carry on with little money and no paid staff.

"I'll let you know in a week or two," Hart said cheerfully during a daylong swing through New Hampshire and Maine accompanied by his wife, Lee, and their 21-year-old son, John.

One day after surprising his Democratic rivals with the announcement that "I'm back in the race," Hart shook hands with arriving workers outside the gates of a small defense contractor and spoke to high school students in the first primary state of New Hampshire.

First Campaign Appearances

His appearances were the first since rejoining the race on Tuesday, seven months after withdrawing in the face of revelations about his relationship with a young Miami model, Donna Rice.

The most dramatic moment of the day came in mid-afternoon when his wife, Lee, made an impromptu speech on a chilly street corner in Portland, Me., amid a throng of camera crews and reporters.

"We have shared with Gary the pain and hurt, but we are well and strong today," she said.

"I have never wanted my husband to be President," she continued. "But I have put my personal feelings aside, because I believe very much that the country deserves to hear his voice."

The family is now stronger and closer, Lee Hart said, and added with grim inflection in her voice: "No group or individual can cause (us) such pain again."

'Easy Path Is Beaten Path'

"I remember well a statement that Gary made many years ago. 'The easy path is the beaten path. But the beaten path seldom leads to the future.' We are happy to be on this unbeaten path because we love this country and we have great hope for its future. . . ."

As the site for the first substantive speech of his rejuvenated campaign, Hart chose Dover's local high school, where 700 juniors and seniors gave him a rousing celebrity welcome, and the principal banned questions from the press.

"This was my idea," Principal Dick Rothenberg said. "The press has plenty of chances to talk to him. This one is for the students."

Hart invoked, as he often does, President John F. Kennedy's exhortation to Americans to serve the nation. He urged the students to become involved in politics and called for the creation of a "national service" through which students might help finance their own education by working with the nation's poor and helping the illiterate learn to read.

Speaking as much to the ranks of television cameras set up in the school's auditorium as to the students, Hart used the opportunity to remind a broader audience of the ideas that led him to run for President, and which he said other candidates have chosen not to discuss.

Misleading the Public

One student questioner referred to Hart's relationship with Rice and asked whether he thought politicians had a right to mislead the public.

"No, I don't think they do," Hart replied in an even voice. "But on the other hand, the public doesn't have a right to know everything about everybody's personal and private life."

The answer brought prolonged cheers from the students.

Hart called for a new foreign policy, one that he said would take into account the growing interdependence of the United States and the Soviet Union, and called for replacement of the concept of "containment of communism" with a new "enlightened engagement" with the Soviets that might involve cooperative efforts to alleviate world hunger.

"Pure containment doesn't work anymore. . . . We are going to have to out-think a much smarter Soviet leader," Hart said, adding that he believed he is as well equipped as any candidate to negotiate with Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

Favors Oil Import Tax

In response to questions from the students, Hart said he favors an oil import tax as a means of cutting the federal budget deficit, encouraging domestic oil production, and a return to a policy of energy independence that he said the Reagan Administration had abandoned.

In the Persian Gulf, Hart said, Britain, France and other nations that depend more heavily on the region's oil than the United States should bear the brunt of escorting tankers, while U.S. Navy forces should provide no more than support from positions in the Indian Ocean.

Asked whether he believed his comeback campaign could succeed, Hart said: "It's kind of an act of faith on our part. We don't have any money, literally. We hope to raise some. We don't have a national campaign staff, but we hope to have some people in January. We don't have media advisers or pollsters.

"But this is the kind of campaign a lot of people have said they've been waiting for," Hart said--one in which ideas compensate for the absence of a "sophisticated political operation."

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