Fall from Grace

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

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The textbook on political-damage control requires the candidate's wife to fly immediately to comfort her beleaguered husband. But for three long days Lee Hart remained silent in the house in Colorado, as campaign officials relayed word that she was suffering from a sinus infection. Political insiders regarded that story with the same skepticism that Kremlinologists apply to news that the Soviet leader has a cold. But in this case the illness was genuine. Not only was the candidate's wife unable to fly, but her left eye was badly swollen. The eye was so inflamed that at one point she joked that she dare not appear in public in support of her husband because "then they'll say he was a wife beater as well." When Lee Hart finally arrived in New Hampshire Wednesday afternoon, her husband took ten minutes off to go to her hotel room. His first words to her: "Hi, babe." At dinner that night, campaign officials discussed buying 30 minutes of TV time to get Hart's story across to the voters. But all such plans died with the news of the Washington Post's potential bombshell. Hart conceded the inevitable when he told Bill Shore early Thursday morning, "Let's go home." On the charter flight back to Denver, Hart sat by himself and read the Tolstoy novel Resurrection. Perhaps the intense spiritual faith of Tolstoy's later years provided comfort. Perhaps Hart wanted to remind himself that he still had a life outside politics. But there would be no resurrections for Hart's political career, at least not in 1988. Hart was a candidate who dared to be different, who demanded that the political world accept him on his own terms or not at all. And in the end he found himself alone.

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