ON THE STONE STEPS of the Bedford-Stuyvesant row house where he lived for 12 weeks in 1959, Pat Robertson Thursday announced, finally and as expected, his candidacy for president. He is not the first ordained minister to run for the presidency, nor the first to stage campaign events in black neighborhoods -- Jesse Jackson has done both. He is also not the first candidate who has had an appearance marred by hecklers and demonstrators who shouted him down and prevented him from delivering his text, but such shouting does not get any less repugnant for having happened before.
The Robertson candidacy is, however, in some respects unique, even disturbingly so. Mr. Robertson likes to describe himself as a businessman and broadcaster, a law school graduate and the son of a U.S. senator -- all true, but far from being the whole story. His core following comes from his evangelical preaching. He claims divine inspiration for his candidacy and has said he would hire only Christians -- meaning his kind of Christians -- for top appointed positions. Most Americans are used to and, we think, more comfortable with politicians who acknowledge that their ambition is their own and appoint officials from a wide range of backgrounds who have a wide range of religious and other personal and cultural experience.
The Robertson campaign has already shown in Iowa, Michigan and elsewhere its capacity to mobilize activists, master party rules and win significant victories in party caucuses. Mr. Robertson and his campaign managers have shown that they understand the rules and can play the game, even if their advance work in Bedford-Stuyvesant was less than perfect. The harder task for Mr. Robertson is to win support from broader electorates in primaries. In some respects, and to a greater extent than is acknowledged by his adversaries and hecklers, he has shown concern for a wide range of issues and a desire to help those in need. But his official candidacy did not have the auspicious beginning he hoped for, and he faces a daunting task ahead.