Why Gary Hart Lost

By Germond, Jack; Witcover, Jules et al. | The Washington Monthly, October 1985 | Go to article overview

Why Gary Hart Lost


Germond, Jack, Witcover, Jules, Goldman, Peter, Fuller, Tony, Henry, William A.,, III, The Washington Monthly


WHY GARY HART LOST

The 1984 presidential campaign may not have been the most memorable one of recent years. It was remarkable, however, for the unexpected surge of support that almost gave Senator Gary Hart the Democratic nomination over Walter Mondale. Almost, but not quite; within the stretch of a few weeks, Hart went from being on the verge of sweeping the nomination to being hopelessly in second place.

How Gary Hart lost the Democratic nomination is not just an interesting story, but an instructive one for those who saw in his candidacy a glimmer of how Democrats might be able to recapture the White House. The following excerpts, which pick up the campaign days before the March 13 "Super Tuesday' primaries in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, are taken from three of the recent books on the 1984 campaign. They are: Wake Me When It's Over by Jack Germond and Jules Witcover ( 1985 By Jack Germond and Jules Witcover. Reprinted with permission from Macmillian Publishing Company); The Quest for the Presidency by Peter Goldman and Tony Fuller ( 1985 by Newsweek, Inc. Reprinted with permission from Bantam Books); and Visions of America: How We Saw the 1984 Election by William A. Henry III ( 1985. Reprinted with permission of The Atlantic Monthly Press).

Missing beef . . .

[The Mondale camp determined that the best way to block Hart's surging campaign] was to deflate the whole idea of new ideas--and [campaign manager Bob] Beckel had some thoughts about that. He and his girlfriend, Mary Goehring, had been watching TV at his place and had caught a Wendy's commercial, a catchy spot with three elderly women inspecting a bready burger at a rival fast-food chain and demanding, "Where's the beff?' Ms. Goehring though it would be great if the old ladies were yelling that at Gary Hart. A light bulb flashed over Beckel's head, and when he flew South to Georgia the next day to help prepare Mondale for yet another debate, he was felling more bullish than ever.

The senior Mondale team was not. The [consensus] when Beckel found them gathered at the Hilton in Columbus, was that they might well be holding their last serious strategy meeting of the campaign. Mike Berman [another top Mondale aide] had brought along his memo on the logistics of Mondale's withdrawal from the race; it reposed in a briefcase at his feet, and Berman had steeled himself to show it to Mondale if [chief Mondale strategist Jim] Johnson said the word. It didn't look as if there would be many dissenters; Beckel though he had never seen so much depression in a single room.

"I've got the answer,' Beckel said. "Where's the beef?'

Mondale's response was an uncomprehending silence. Neither he nor some of the others had seen the ad or knew what Beckel was talking about.

"There's these old ladies, you see,' he said, "and they walk into this sterile place, you know, every fast-food joint U.S.A., and there's this bun, and suddenly she says, "Where's the beef? Where's the beef?'' Beckel was pacing the floor furiously, acting all the parts. "Isn't it great? Isn't it terrific?'

Mondale and some of the others weren't getting it.

"Don't you see?' Beckel said, flushed with creation. "One of the old women finally gets the owner on the phone--you know, this big, fat, rich guy, S.S. Bun, got a couple of hussies with him, and she says, "Where's the beef?' and he falls over backward and crashes.'

They still weren't getting it.

"Don't you see?' Beckel said, by now pleading. "It's Hart. It's what we've been trying to say all week long. Son of a bitch, there's nothing on there--there's no beef. He says "New ideas, new ideas, new ideas,' and what the fuck is a new idea, where's the beef?'

Some of them began warming to the idea, and Mondale spoke the slogan a few times, warily, as if he were trying on a purple suit. The performance, and the spark of hope it struck, lightened spirits in the room; the [memo] stayed in Berman's briefcase and went home with him to Washington, undelivered. …

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