Fall from Grace

Seven days in May end with a front runner's implosion

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Hart's fast-blooming friendship with Broadhurst was the stuff that every Washington power broker dreams of: a close association with the man who could be the next President. Although Broadhurst had limited political contacts outside Louisiana, he often traveled with Hart on forays through the South. On a Friday night in early March, Hart and Broadhurst were relaxing on a yacht in Miami harbor after a fund-raising dinner. As Rice tells it, she wandered aboard by chance and encountered Hart. She told the former Senator, "You probably don't remember, but I met you at Aspen." Hart admits he asked for Rice's phone number, and the next day, she says, he called to invite her to accompany him and Broadhurst on a daylong boat trip.

Hart's original account of the boat trip was troublesomely vague. In response to questions, Hart claimed that Broadhurst had invited "two or three friends" to join them. Their destination was Bimini, 50 miles from Miami, where Broadhurst's own boat had undergone repairs. Both Hart and Rice insisted the only reason the party stayed overnight in Bimini was that the customs office was closed. But the Miami Herald reported that Monkey Business cleared Bahamian customs on arriving, shortly before dusk. And according to Bahamian authorities, American pleasure boats are not required to clear customs upon departure. The sleeping arrangements on Bimini prompted more questions than a TV quiz show. Both Rice and Hart maintained that they slept on separate boats, and that the two men spent the night on Broadhurst's.

The trip was only mentioned in passing in the initial Miami Herald story. But the image of two married men on an overnight boat trip to Bimini with two attractive young women did as much to damage Hart's credibility as the Herald's original charges. In the weeks after Bimini, both Hart and Rice acknowledge, they talked six or seven times by phone. Hart at first characterized the conversations as "casual, political" and later claimed they were primarily to discuss the bit-part actress's fund-raising efforts in the entertainment industry. The schedule for the Washington weekend was ostensibly for Hart, Broadhurst and the two women to have dinner together on Friday and Saturday nights. Even though Lee Hart was home in Colorado, the exhausted candidate had flown from Iowa to Washington for the weekend. But in making his social plans, Hart never figured on a stakeout by the Miami Herald.

Even now, after the collapse of the Hart campaign, there is still no coherent account of that Washington weekend that is not subject to bitter contradiction. Judging from the stories of Hart, Broadhurst and Rice, there were enough comings and goings from the candidate's Capitol Hill town house to satisfy a French farceur. But the Herald's initial story, rushed into print to make the late Sunday editions, contended that Hart and his date were spied entering the house alone late on Friday night and were not seen again until they emerged through the rear door on Saturday evening. Not until a day later, after the story had roared through the political community, did the Herald reporters concede they had not kept consistent watch on the rear alleyway exit until almost dawn Saturday.

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