Gary Hart is back where he likes to be, thumbing his nose at the Establishment and running a guerrilla campaign for the presidency.
"If people are fed up with campaigns run by professional politicians . . . they can sign up here," Hart said to cheers in Sioux Falls, S. D., last Thursday, two days after he dramatically re-entered the race for the Democratic nomination.
But even an insurgent campaign needs a core of experienced political operatives, fund-raisers and supporters. Without them, Hart faces an insurmountable task in trying to get on ballots, line up potential delegates and develop an organization that can capitalize on any sympathy that comes his way.
Interviews with former Hart supporters indicate that there is a small but growing number of Hart activists, fund-raisers and campaign volunteers willing to work for him again if he demonstrates strength and "grace under pressure," as one of them put it, in the weeks ahead.
Time Running Out
But Hart's task is formidable. Even as national polls showed him apparently leading the six other Democratic candidates after he rejoined the race on Tuesday, election officials in three states with large blocs of delegates--Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania--said time was fast running out for any candidate to get on their primary ballots and line up delegate slates.
"It takes organization in this state to line up delegates, and Gary Hart has none," said Mark Schreiber, executive director of the Illinois Democratic Party.
After noting similar problems in New York, Pennsylvania and the Southern states, Kevin Sweeney, Hart's former press secretary, said: "This is a long shot, a real long shot."
Hart got some bad news in Ohio, when his most experienced operative there, attorney John Kulewicz, wrote him a letter wishing him well but saying that his law practice and private life would prevent him from working again in the campaign.
It is people like Kulewicz who have the know-how to line up potential delegates and get candidates on the primary ballots. He acknowledged that it would be "very hard" for Hart to get going in Ohio, a state he won late in the 1984 primary season, reviving his candidacy.
Pollster Dismisses Chances
And, in the South, which holds 14 primaries on Super Tuesday, March 8, Atlanta pollster Claibourne Darden virtually dismissed Hart's attempted comeback.
"He has about enough support down here to fill half a restroom at a football stadium," Darden said. "Most of the people I have talked to expressed utter contempt for Hart for getting back into the race."
Many former Hart supporters around the country are staying put with their new candidates. And many remain bitter about Hart's dalliance with part-time model Donna Rice. News reports of the affair, and Hart's subsequent conflicting statements, created such negative publicity last May that Hart bitterly quit the race and later acknowledged on national television that he had committed adultery.
"Sure, he's leading the news polls," said Dori Corrado, a former Hart activist in the South who is now working for Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore Jr. "But his negatives (unfavorable rating by voters) are 40%. I don't see how he can be a successful candidate."
David Dreyer, Hart's national policy director last year, says Hart is "running outside a system that he helped create . . . . I don't know if you can both change the system and beat the system in the same year."
Some Positive Signs
Still, there are some positive signs for Hart.
Two former Hart operatives in New Hampshire who had switched to Gore--including Gore's New England political director, Greg Lebel--have jumped back to Hart. And two of Hart's assistant campaign managers, Sue Casey and Michael Stratton, have signed on again.
Bill Shore, Hart's closest aide for several years, said in an interview Friday: "I'm back in Denver and trying to figure out how I can help. Like a lot of other people, I've gotten involved in other things in the last six months."
Shore said he picked up 600 telegrams Friday at Hart's Denver law office, many of them from people offering support. He read one over the phone sent from Iowa, where the Feb. 8 caucuses are the first big test for Democrats, and where Hart's plans are uncertain.
"Your Scott County troops are overjoyed to see you re-enter the 1988 race," said the telegram from James Kirkpatrick, a stockbroker in Bettendorf, Iowa. When reached by telephone, Kirkpatrick said he had sent the telegram because he believed that eastern Iowa was "still up for grabs for the Democrats."
In California, a substantial portion of Hart's formidable network of activists, fund-raisers and volunteers--some of whom have worked for him in other states--is still intact and may be willing to help him again.
This includes his former national deputy campaign manager, Los Angeles Chief Deputy City Atty. John Emerson, who said: "There is no doubt in my mind that, if things go OK in the next month, there are enough people out there to help him."