Two Democratic candidates for president, Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (Tenn.) and former Arizona governor Bruce Babbitt, said yesterday that they smoked marijuana when they were young.
In addition, two other politicians, Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.), 68, and Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), 44, told reporters that they had once experimented with the illegal drug.
Following revelations that Supreme Court nominee Douglas H. Ginsburg had used marijuana, nearly every presidential aspirant responded yesterday to reporters' questions at events across the country about whether they had ever used drugs. Many of the statements came before Ginsburg, 41, withdrew his name from consideration.
Republicans Pierre S. (Pete) du Pont IV, 52; Sen. Robert J. Dole (Kan.), 64, and Rep. Jack Kemp (N.Y.), 52, and Democrats Jesse L. Jackson, 46; Sen. Paul Simon (Ill.), 58; Gov. Michael S. Dukakis (Mass.), 54, and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.), 46, said they have never used any illegal drugs.
Gore, 39, said at an impromptu news conference just before a presidential candidate forum at the Florida state Democratic convention in Miami that he had smoked marijuana in college and the Army but that he hasn't touched it in 15 years.
On Friday, he had told reporters in Mobile, Ala., that he had never smoked marijuana as an adult, but when asked whether he had done so in college, he called the question "inappropriate."
The response to revelations that Ginsburg had smoked marijuana while a professor at Harvard Law School was so swift and negative that Gore and other politicians apparently decided they could not afford to ignore the issue.
It was too early to tell whether the revelations would be damaging, but initial reaction by some Gore supporters in Florida was negative.
"People of my generation are shocked because they've never been exposed to drugs or used them," said William Crotty, 56, a Daytona Beach lawyer who is Gore's top Florida fund-raiser. "My generation is where the fund-raising comes from. He gets high marks for honesty, though."
"I think it's devastating to him politically, although it shouldn't be because it was a mistake made many years ago," said state Rep. Mike Langton of Jacksonville. "We hold our presidential candidates to impossibly high standards."
Throughout the busy campaign day yesterday, presidential candidates were dogged by reporters seeking to discover whether any of them have used drugs.
Babbitt, 49, on the stump in Iowa, admitted he had smoked marijuana several times "in the late '60s when I was a civil rights worker down South," but added, "So what's the big deal? It beats me." Babbitt said he had not used the drug since the 1960s.
Also at campaign events in Iowa yesterday, Kemp, Dole and du Pont said they have never used marijuana.
Du Pont, who has advocated drug testing in the nation's high schools, said yesterday that not only has he never used marijuana but members of his campaign staff have all passed urine tests for drug use.
Kemp, when asked whether such scrutiny over past drug use is useful, said: "If you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen, and I'm in the kitchen."
In yesterday's editions of the Providence Journal-Bulletin, Pell, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was quoted as saying he tried the drug "many years ago" when he "took several puffs of a marijuana cigarette."
"I didn't like it and never tried it again," he said.
Gingrich said he had used marijuana once and that it did not affect him. "The historical record is that 19 years ago, I used marijuana once at a party . . . in New Orleans.
"It didn't have any effect on me. As a matter of fact, I never went back and revisited it," said the conservative lawmaker. Gingrich agreed with Gore, Pell and Babbitt that Ginsburg's marijuana use should not have been sufficient reason for opposing his nomination.
Dukakis, Gephardt and Jackson said they had never used illegal drugs. But Dukakis and Jackson, both speaking at the Florida convention, said their opponents' admissions should not affect their campaigns.
"It's irrelevant to a candidate's qualifications, and we should be concentrating on real issues of substance," Dukakis said.
In Iowa, Simon said that when he was in high school, "I don't think I even had heard of marijuana. If people wanted to have a wild time they would sneak off with a six-pack of beer." Simon said he had taken part in the latter activity.
Gore said he wished he had never used marijuana. But he likened its use in the 1960s to people drinking "moonshine" in the 1920s.
Upon arriving in Miami Friday night, Gore had huddled with advisers, including his father, former senator Albert Gore Sr., and decided to meet the question head-on. At 4:30 a.m., he called the state party official who handled news media arrangements and asked him to schedule a news conference at 8:45 a.m.
"During my student years I tried marijuana, but I haven't for 15 years and not since I entered public office," Gore said. "I wish I hadn't, but I did, like tens of millions of my generation . . . . My use was infrequent and rare."
He said he had used it as an undergraduate at Harvard, "once or twice" when he was off duty while in the Army in Vietnam and in graduate school after his discharge.
"When I was 24, I decided that it was wrong for me. When I became a man I put away childish things," he said.
He added that he thinks the issue has no bearing on his fitness for the presidency and that the question is still "inappropriate" but that "the events of the last few days makes it seem more relevant to reporters than it is to me."