Hart's advice: There isn't any magic button
The political landscape moves by so fast in a presidential campaign that the viewer soon forgets major developments in the very recent past: such as the way Gary Hart burst onto the scene and, for a few short weeks, led the Democratic pack.
Then the personable Colorado senator was analyzed, dissected, and profiled, in the news media's manner for the political elite.
The tired phrase ''How soon they forget'' was underscored the other morning when the senator, now an out-of-the-limelight surrogate speaker for Walter Mondale on the campaign trail, sat in with 25 reporters over breakfast.
There was no stir of excitement as he entered the hotel room and walked around the table, shaking hands. The very writers who had called him ''glamorous'' had decided he was pretty much as they had previously viewed him: a pleasant, bright, well-informed fellow. No more ''Lincolnesque'' or a ''second John Kennedy.'' The moment for such accolades had passed. But Hart still impressed them with observations like these:
Do you see any tangible evidence that the race is getting closer?
It is difficult to gauge how a ticket is doing by the way people respond to a surrogate. But I sensed and I feel that this race is going to close up a lot in October. I think the parallel is 1968 (when Hubert Humphrey came from way back to almost catch Richard Nixon) and that a chance does exist for Mondale to win.
As you reached out for the nomination, you talked a lot about the future and of your vision for the nation. Where is the vision in the Mondale campaign?
In Fritz's case it is more implicit than explicit. He has not cast his campaign in blueprint terms: As in ''Here's the way I think the United States should look like in 1999.'' But I think it's there. He and the platform accepted a lot of the themes some of us were talking about. In Mondale there is less of the explicit statement of what the future should look like than simply embracing the elements of it.
Mondale keeps hammering away at Reagan and, to many, he always appears to be carping. This doesn't seem to be paying off very well. Your comment?
Well, criticisms and attacks have a way of getting more news than positive statements. A speech outlining some positive steps or goals seems less interesting than an attack on the present administration. You've got to keep in mind that this poor man is being pulled limb from limb by his own party in terms of the kind of advice he is getting.
I had some experience with a candidate who was well behind (McGovern), and there is nothing worse than having your friends coming around and telling you that you have to do this and you have to do that. You soon find, as I did in 1972 (when Hart was McGovern's campaign manager) that everyone contradicts everyone else.
The Tip O'Neills of this world say ''come out slugging,'' whatever that means. Others say, ''Present your own case.'' I think what Mondale is trying to do is to balance both of these and be comfortable with himself.
What is your own advice to Mondale?
Well, I tend to be always positive. You do have to state differences - how you would be different from your opponent. People want to know that. But after a while you just can't major in negatives. You just can't attack, attack, attack. What I think wins elections in the final analysis is a positive alternative.
Does Mondale have one?
Yes, I think so.
What could happen to turn this race around? Obviously (Hubert) Humphrey's shift away from Lyndon Johnson on the Vietnam issue was the beginning of his comeback.
Most of all, the superficiality of the President's campaign. I don't think he can sustain a movie facade over a 10- to 12-week period. I think all the comments on lighting effects and skin tones are finally going to seep through to the voters. My own experience to the contrary, I think the American people are pretty smart. I don't think they are going to let Reagan get away with this.
I think the race will get closer in the second week in October and force the President to come out with his views on issues and the future, and the race could become very interesting at that point.
But isn't all the evidence that Reagan is a very popular President? How can you cut into that in the weeks remaining?
There's also an equal amount of evidence that most Americans disagree with his policies. And that's what I think this contest is all about: Reagan the man vs. Reagan and his policies. If it is Reagan the man, he probably wins. If it becomes Reagan and his policies, he probably loses.
The goal and the burden of the Mondale campaign should be to focus on Reagan's policies and to tell the voters that however they may feel about Reagan the man, this is not a vote on Mr. Congeniality. He should tell them that we are talking about serious issues affecting their lives and the lives of their children.
There seems to be logic in what you say, but how does Mondale get this message across?
I think everyone has been trying to find the magic button. I don't think there is one. Fritz must just do what he is doing - the best he can - and hope it works.