With his campaign deeply in the red and stalled in public opinion polls, Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) has made a major strategic shift in his bid for the Democratic nomination for president and will bypass many events attended by his rivals, according to his campaign manager.
The shift, designed to portray Hart as "a genuine grass-roots candidate," calls for him to skip nonbinding straw polls and many candidate "cattle shows," campaign manager Oliver Henkel said.
The campaign staff has concluded straw polls are a "diversion" that drain resources and that cattle shows do not show Hart at his best, he said.
"We think we're a different type candidacy. And we don't think we've campaigned differently so far," Henkel said in an interview. "It is incumbent on us to depict him in a different way."
Among new approaches under consideration are hour-long question-and-answer shows on cable television and door-to-door canvassing in key states, he said.
The change in strategy represents a tacit admission that Hart's campaign has foundered and is attempting to get on its feet.
The redirection comes at a time when Hart's low standing in polls and large debt have led some opponents to speculate that he might drop out of the race before the first primary next year.
Hart had $7,400 on hand and was $224,896 in debt on June 30, according to Federal Election Commission reports. In a recent Washington Post/ABC poll, his candidacy was supported by 2 percent of those surveyed.
To replenish its money supply, the Hart campaign this week borrowed $350,000 from the First American Bank of Washington, which is controlled by an Arabian-owned holding company. The loan is secured by the federal matching funds Hart hopes to receive after Jan. 1.
Henkel said that the Hart campaign went to the bank, where Hart maintains his personal accounts, after unsuccessful attempts to obtain loans in Colorado.
Henkel said that he had not realized when negotiations for the loan began that the bank had been taken over by Arabian investors. He added that he had later reviewed the bank's ownership to see if it posed any potential conflict with Hart's strong pro-Israel stance.
The deal calls for the campaign to pay a variable interest rate 2 percent above the prime rate, according to Henkel. He said that the campaign will draw against a line of credit and that the money will be used to finance direct-mail solicitations and other revenue-producing activities.
Hart is the second Democratic presidential hopeful to announce that he will no longer attempt to win straw polls. Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) has said he will not make any special effort to win such polls because they are unrepresentative and "subject to manipulation and abuse."
Hart yesterday said straw polls have become "divisive for the party and an unnecessary expense for candidates." Nevertheless, he said that he still hopes supporters will vote for him in straw polls.
Major Democratic straw polls are scheduled this fall in New Jersey, Iowa, Maine and Florida.
Hart will make a decision on whether to appear at candidate cattle shows at these and other events on a case-by-case basis, aides said.
Henkel said that the campaign began to reassess its strategy after Hart finished behind Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) and former vice president Walter F. Mondale in a Wisconsin straw poll.
"We expect to show everyone a very different campaign after Labor Day," Henkel said.