|
4
Gary Hart and Donna Rice

The infamous 1987 lap-sitting photograph of Gary Hart and Donna Rice

©National Enquirer/Getty Images

Gary Hart's strong showing against the eventual Democratic presidential nominee, Walter Mondale in 1984, made him a shoo-in for the 1988 race. But in March of 1987, a month before announcing his candidacy, Hart met Donna Rice, a pageant queen, fashion model, and honors grad in biology from the University of South Carolina [source: Dionne]. Rumors began swirling almost immediately, and Hart invited the press to use whatever means they had to check up on him, promising they'd be "very bored." That same day, Rice was photographed leaving his house, which was less boring for the press than Hart might have hoped.

Hart's polling numbers dropped immediately, putting him 10 points behind Michael Dukakis, then the governor of Massachusetts and his chief rival. Two days after the original sighting, the National Enquirer produced the now-famous photograph of Rice on Hart's lap. The image is pure '80s, all blow-dried hair and fashion sweatshirts, but the intimacy is unmistakable. Less than a week later, Hart was out of the campaign -- going back for an extremely short-lived attempt that December -- and Rice was looking for a new job herself.

What sticks with this particular scandal is the quick turnaround. From March to June, an entire hopeful Democratic presidency went up and came back down again, like a lead balloon. This may not be the most sensational or the most memorable of the corrupt 1980s political and financial stories, but in some ways, it seems like a historical watermark: What was beneath the press in Kennedy's time, and even Johnson's, was by the '80s a Danielle Steele miniseries, playing out live across the pages of tabloids and real papers alike.

|