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Back From Political Exile, Gary Hart Brings a Warning

November 24, 2002|J.R. Moehringer | Times Staff Writer

"This war's being fought in our streets and cities. Nobody's going to ride in. The 82d Airborne isn't coming. The 1st Marine Division isn't going to be here. It'll be the Colorado National Guard. The cops on the beat. The fire and emergency management people. We're all going to have to get into this. Now, why can't the president say that?"

While the Hart-Rudman report stops short of criticizing President Bush by name, Hart doesn't. He decries Bush's readiness to invade Iraq, saying the nation isn't ready: "It's imprudent and it's folly. The threats to this country are going to skyrocket the minute the first U.S. soldier crosses the Iraqi border."

Hart accepts every speaking invitation offered these days, he says, no matter what size the group, "not because I get my kicks out of this -- it's not my nature to want to scare people." Rather, he hopes to avoid the self-doubts that plagued him after Sept. 11, the sense that he should have done more. "When it happens again -- and it is going to happen again -- I want at least to know I did my best."

But it's also clear that his time in the public eye has revived old ambitions. When the Denver Post reported last month that Hart was speaking with friends about another run for president, Hart says he was deluged with support. "I've gotten a lot of e-mails," he says, a gleam in his eye. "Not one of them negative."

But even some of his greatest admirers see his political resurrection as a remote possibility. Though he has gained new credibility in the war on terrorism, friends say, he would still have trouble shaking questions about character, given the extramarital affair that undermined his career and similar scandals that dogged Clinton.

"It's the tragedy of his life," says former Colorado Gov. Richard D. Lamm. "I'm sure it must be tough shaving every morning if you're Gary Hart. You can't blame anybody else but yourself.

"But I'm pointing out that it's also a public policy tragedy, because I think we need his talents."

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