Gary Hart Tells Politico Billion-Dollar Clinton Campaign Should Frighten Americans

In an interview with Politico, Gary Hart warned that a billion-dollar Clinton campaign  “ought to frighten every American” and hoped for a competitive primary which forced Clinton to be specific on the issues. He had favorable comments on both Martin O’Malley and Elizabeth Warren. Here is a condensed version:

“I like Hillary Clinton. I really appreciate what she and her husband have done … but we need new leaders,” said Hart, a former Colorado senator who rose from the bottom of the polls and nearly took down Walter Mondale in the 1984 primaries.

The post-Citizens United campaign finance environment has sullied the presidential process, he said, benefiting establishment politicians who cater to financial backers. He pointed to his own experience, noting that he and his wife mortgaged their home for between $50,000 and $75,000 — an amount that made a significant difference in his first campaign in 1984.

“I’m now told the Clinton campaign intends to raise $1 billion. Now, that ought to frighten every American,” he said…

The role of money in elections, the 78-year-old Hart said, is a driving force behind the current “dynastic” nature of American politics.

“If you’ve got to have a billion dollars to run for president, how many people can do that? Only the Clintons and the Bushes and one or two others,” he said.

“This country is 330 million people, and we should not be down to two families who are qualified to govern. … When you create dynastic networks, you shut a lot of people out,” he added.

Hart, who finished second to Mondale in the 1984 Democratic primary, said he has no doubt Clinton will get a primary challenger. And he argued that the challenger — whether it’s O’Malley or anyone else — should force Clinton to clarify her stance on key issues, something he says would be “therapy” for the party.

“The job of a challenger is to force specificity: Here is my plan, now let’s see her plan,” he said. Asked whether Clinton has not been adequately specific — he used the words “specific” or “specificity” 10 times in a half-hour interview — the former senator said she hasn’t been “pressed.”

His advice to prospective challengers to Clinton, like O’Malley? Be specific on policy, play up the generational divide and aggressively court small-money Internet donors.

Time and again, Hart spoke to the notion of 50 percent — the rough number of Democrats he says are not yet supporting Clinton for president. “If the polls say she has 50, there are 50 that she doesn’t have. … Why isn’t she at 95 [percent]?”

…Hart said there’s a parallel between O’Malley’s situation and his in 1984, when he took on a former vice president and overwhelming establishment favorite in Mondale. Hart, who barely registered a blip on the polls in Iowa at the outset, pressed a generational contrast with the man eight years older than him. He won the New Hampshire primary and nearly defeated Mondale in part by galvanizing younger voters.

Hart anticipates that O’Malley — who can point to a progressive record and is more comfortable with retail politics than Clinton — will use similar themes against the front-runner more than 15 years his senior. “I think he’ll draw a generational distinction, just because it’s obvious. I think he will pursue this search-for-new-leadership theme,” Hart said.

To that effect, he pointed to Barack Obama — who harnessed energy from the liberal base in 2008 and became competitive through his online fundraising — as a potential model. “So, could a Martin O’Malley do that? Possibly. If he develops an identity and a persona that a number of those searching 50 percent can identify with,” Hart said, arguing that Obama “had a depth of feeling, understanding and thoughtfulness that very few political leaders had.”

Hart said he has not communicated with any potential Democratic hopefuls other than O’Malley, but he offered strong praise for Warren, a progressive favorite who has captured the imagination of the left.

“I think it would be interesting in that she is very courageous, not just on the financial industry,” Hart said of a possible run by the Massachusetts senator, noting that he takes her at her word that she isn’t going to jump into the race. “There is an obvious integrity to her that is very, very appealing. By the way she speaks and what she says and how she says it, you believe this is a fiercely independent political figure who is saying a lot of things that people want to hear about how the game is fixed and rigged for the powerful.”