CONCORD, N.H., JAN. 8 -- For all the television publicity and press attention Gary Hart has drawn in the three weeks since he reentered the presidential campaign here, the tangible resources available to him today in the first primary state are a one-room office with four phones, staffed this morning by two campaign veterans and five college-age volunteers.
Not much for the candidate who led the Democratic race until his scandal-forced exit from the race last May and who even now is second in the public polls here and in Iowa. But the skeleton crew of late-arriving Hart volunteers may be enough to carry his message to the Democratic primary voters who gave Hart his first surprise victory in 1984 -- if those voters are prepared to trust him again.
Ned Helms, a Concord businessman who has been a Hart leader for six years, has turned over his home to the youthful volunteers who are showing up daily. "As a campaign, we'll be able to do what we need to do," he said this morning. "We clearly will have a large enough cadre to get the word to the voters that these are Hart's issues and his stands. What the electoral reaction will be, I can't predict."
Polls here have shown former senator Hart carrying the highest negatives in the seven-man Democratic field, but Helms said he was encouraged that the questions at Hart's public appearances in three days this week centered almost entirely on the issues -- not his character. "I think people's minds are open," Helms said. "They don't think he's a nut or a flake."
The first real test of public reaction will come when Hart volunteers conduct their first voter canvass two weekends from now.
Meantime, Greg Lebel, Dan Calegari, Lisa Widdekind and a handful of other 1984 Hart veterans who had drifted off to other campaigns are back, scrambling to patch an operation together with just over five weeks to go before the Feb. 16 voting.
When Hart returns Sunday for another swing, Lebel hopes to be ready to add a few campaign-sponsored events to a schedule that now consists almost entirely of talks to school assemblies and service club luncheons, and hand-shaking walks through shopping malls and downtown stores.
Hart has eased the ban on informal interviews he imposed as a protective measure against "character questions" when he reentered the race. He is generating local publicity through radio news shows and editorial board meetings. But there is an improvised air to his personal campaigning and a scrambling quality to organization efforts.
In a brief interview at a Manchester restaurant Friday, Hart said he is comfortable having "a local effort by indigenous people, not a big professional campaign."
Citing the uncertainty of his finances, he said, "I don't envision any television spots, but maybe at some point I'll be able to buy a half-hour of time where I can talk about the major issues."
Sue Casey, the New Hampshire woman who steered Hart's winning 1984 effort and is now working in his Denver national office, said in a phone interview, "We're not going to get distracted into doing fancy brochures or ads. There will be no paid phone banks. We'll stick to the real basic stuff -- as much phoning, letter-writing and canvassing as we can do with volunteers."
Some rival campaigns are skeptical the late-starting volunteer effort will have much impact. Mike Muir, who has assembled the much-admired organization for former Arizona governor Bruce Babbit, said, "40 days out, it's going to be difficult for a bunch of kids to put together anything coherent, let alone effective." Mark Longabaugh of Rep. Richard A. Gephardt's campaign said, "A real organization has to be disciplined and methodical if you're going to get the most out of your volunteers . . . . I don't think they will be able to do it."
But Charlie Baker, whose Dukakis campaign staff is the largest and most professional on the Democratic side, said, "I'm withholding judgment. If they can pull off an effective canvass with their student volunteers, they've got enough time to reach the voters."
Hart volunteers here this morning included Bryan Moser, a graduate student and former student body president at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Rob Land, the junior college president at Skidmore College, Karen Wimpey of Notre Dame College in Manchester and Marcy Allen from Bethany College in West Virginia.
"They remind me," said Helms, "of the way we were in 1972, working for George McGovern or Pete McCloskey. They really believe in the cause."