Not all candidates are able to overcome… campaign scandals. Gary Hart is the obvious example. Hart seriously challenged Walter Mondale for the 1984 Democratic nomination, winning several key primaries. Rumors swirled about Hart’s past, including discrepancies in his birth date and his legally changing his name years before his political career. Most people attributed these inconsistencies with what was termed Hart’s “flake” personality. It was clear that Hart was going to be the frontrunner in the 1988 election.
Hart declared his 1988 candidacy… in April of 1987. Shortly after, rumors of an extramarital affair began to follow his campaign. Hart did the unimaginable, he dared the press to prove his infidelity. The Miami Herald did just that, confirming Hart’s relationship with Donna Rice. The Miami paper uncovered a photo of the pair together, and the image was leaked to the National Enquirer. Hart exited the race and lashed out at the media for its salacious reporting. This earned Hart an unusual vote of confidence from notorious media critic, Richard Nixon. Polls indicated that the American people sided with Hart, but his reentry in the race didn’t last beyond the New Hampshire primary.
The Gary Hart scandal signaled… a clear change in American political reporting. Personal scandals gathered just as much attention as political scandals. Gone were the days of the press turning a blind eye to private indiscretions. Reporters perceived a demand for these types of stories, despite polls showing otherwise. As a result, public officials are held to what can be considered an unreasonable moral standard.