Lee Hart, who supported her presidential candidate husband Gary after the affair was revealed, died at the age of 85
Lee Hart, the wife of former Colorado Senator Gary Hart, who assisted him when his front-running campaign for president collapsed in 1987 due to having an extramarital affair, died on Friday at the age of 85.
Her family confirmed that she had died in Lakewood Colorado after a short illness, but gave no cause.
Lee Hart was brought to the nation’s consciousness when her husband, a Colorado senator and the favorite to win the 1988 Democratic Party nomination for president, was exposed as having an affair with a young Florida model, Donna Rice.
The affair, which both Hart and Rice denied, tore his public image as a dutiful family man to shreds, and after polls confirmed his popularity had fallen, he retired from the race a few days after being exposed.
The scandal marked a turning point in American politics; politicians’ private lives suddenly became fair game for the press.
A 2018 film about the incident called The Frontrunner, starring Hugh Jackman as Gary and Vera Farmiga as Lee, carried the slogan: ‘The week America went tabloid’.
Lee would assist her husband, now 84 years old, who lives with their two children and two grandchildren.
Gary and Lee Hart on the campaign trail in 1984 during Gary’s first run for president. She was a constant companion as he made a credible run for the nomination, before losing to Walter Mondale
Gary Hart announces to the right that he is withdrawing from the race to become the Democratic candidate after his affair came to light. Looking at his wife Lee, who died this week, and son John
Donna Rice, a Florida model who once appeared on an episode of Miami Vice, is said to be dating Gary Hart after they met on a yacht.
A poster for The Frontrunner, starring Jackman, about the scandal. ‘The week America went tabloid’, is the slogan
Affairs of the Heart
In 1987, Gary Hart led the Democratic nomination to become president of the United States. He would soon become embroiled in a sex scandal that drove him out of the race.
April 27, 1987
Miami Herald political editor Tom Fielder anonymously receives that Hart was dating a woman on an overnight trip on a yacht chartered by lawyer-lobbyist William Broadhurst called Monkey Business.
May 1, 1987
The newspaper sends a reporter to evict Hart’s home in Washington DC. Hart was seen that night leaving home with Donna Rice, before returning later. The reporter confronted them and both denied the affair.
May 3, 1987
A story appears in the Miami Herald with photographs of Hart and Rice. When asked if he was having an affair, Hart said, “I don’t have to answer that.” Rice separately denied the charges.
May 5, 1987
Hart suspends his campaign, his political career is in tatters. He dropped out of the race three days later. Voters questioned on Hart later said they disapproved of his dishonesty more than the adultery.
May 24, 1987
The National Enquirer publishes photos of Rice sitting on Hart’s lap. In a story accompanying the photos, the tabloid newspaper quoted Rice’s unidentified friends as saying she confided in them that Hart told her he intended to divorce his wife and marry her after he was elected president .
Lee Hart, a former English teacher, was a tireless campaigner and supporter of her husband during his runs for the Senate and the White House.
Gary first rose to national prominence in 1984 when he gave Hart the Democratic presidential nomination and narrowly lost to former Vice President Walter F. Mondale.
He declined to seek re-election to the Senate in 1986 and sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988.
He was widely regarded as the front runner, but his campaign got out of hand after an affair with a young model, Rice, who once appeared in Miami Vice, came to light.
The revelations in the Miami Herald and subsequent coverage of the political press in Washington marked a departure from the way in which previous disloyalty of politicians was viewed as off limits by the press.
Hart’s public personality was that of a loyal husband whose marriage had been strengthened by brief divorces from his wife.
The presidential candidate denied having an affair, as did Donna Rice.
But the growing scandal and his dismissive attitude towards media coverage did not endear him to voters.
His behavior ‘challenged the moralistic conventions of political behavior and ultimately paid the price for his apostasy’, Time magazine reported in 1987.
While Hart tried to keep his campaign afloat despite intense media coverage, Lee Hart defended him when questioned about the allegations.
“I love my husband very much,” she said during a campaign performance in New Hampshire.
“I know Gary better than anyone, and if Gary says nothing happened, nothing happened.”
But with declining support and his image as an honest husband in tatters, he withdrew from the race.
“I said I bend, but I don’t break, and believe me, I’m not broken,” he said at a May 8 press conference announcing he was quitting.
The following year, George H.W.Bush, who had served two terms as Ronald Reagan’s vice president, would defeat Michael Dukakis and become the 41st US president.
After falling out of the race, Hart tried to revive his campaign, and Hart backed up again.
“I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do,” she said, “traveling with Gary.”
Hart went back to exercising rights and became a special envoy to Northern Ireland in the Obama administration, and they remained married until her death.
In a 2003 interview with the New York Times, Hart would say, ‘This whole ’87 case is flypaper to me. I want to break free. ‘
Gary and Lee Hart in 1984 during his unsuccessful first run to become president
Gary and Lee Hart were constant companions on the campaign trail. After his affair came to light, she told the press, “I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do, travel with Gary.”
Gary Hart’s first run for president in 1984 would eventually be narrowly defeated by Walter Mondale
This December 1987 photo of the Harts in good spirits while campaigning in New Hampshire
Lee Hart, left, remained a devoted wife to Gary, after his affair with Donna Rice, right, came to light during his 1987 presidential run
But his name would forever be synonymous with the affair, and the turning point marked the way the press reported on political sex scandals.
Donna Rice married in 1994 and became an Internet security activist and is president of Enough is Enough, a non-profit organization against child pornography.
Even before the scandal, the Harts’ marriage had had its ups and downs, the Associated Press reports.
They separated twice, in 1979 and 1981, and even announced plans to divorce, but they remained married for over 60 years.
Lee Hart was born Oletha Ludwig in Lawrence, Kansas on February 20, 1936. She graduated from Bethany Nazarene College in 1958 and married Hart that summer.
While her husband graduated from Yale University, Hart taught English in Milford, Connecticut, according to The Denver Post.
The Denver Post reported that Lee Hart was passionate about nature and wildlife, especially birds, her family said.
Her son John Hart told The Post that his mother was “very tough and very caring.”
She was always there to comfort us. She meant a lot to us in so many ways, ”the newspaper reported.
After retirement, Lee Hart traveled extensively, with her husband and family, fulfilling a lifelong dream of traveling to Uganda to see mountain gorillas.
She is survived by her husband; her two children, John and Andrea Hart; her sister, former US Representative Martha Keys from Kansas; and two grandchildren.