Time Warp, 1984: Special Train Ride Carries Presidential Candidate Gary Hart From Scranton To Wilkes-Barre
April 7, 1984: Days before the Pennsylvania primary election, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Gary Hart made a unique campaign visit to Northeast Pennsylvania, riding aboard the inaugural excursion of the Scranton Express from the Electric City to Wilkes-Barre’s Station Complex.
This visit was the brainchild of Scranton Mayor James McNulty, who invited Hart and his fellow Democratic candidates, former Vice President Walter Mondale and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, to speak in Scranton and then ride a special excursion train between Scranton and Binghamton. But plans changed. Hart ended up being the lone candidate on the excursion, and the train went to Wilkes-Barre instead.
This rail excursion was the first time since Jan. 5, 1970, that a passenger train departed from the former Lackawanna Station, which then was the Hilton at Lackawanna Station and now is operated by the Radisson hotel company.
Prior to his departure aboard the 12-car vintage train, Hart spoke to 1,000 people gathered along the tracks behind the hotel. Once in Wilkes-Barre, Hart held another rally, speaking before 1,500 people.
Four-hundred supporters, members of the press and railroad enthusiasts joined Hart on the excursion powered by a 350-ton Canadian Pacific steam engine. As the train made its way to Wilkes-Barre, Hart spoke to reporters aboard the train. Passengers were treated to food and refreshments compliments of the local “Hart for President” campaign.
On primary day in Pennsylvania, April 10, Mondale came in first, followed by Hart and then Jackson. Hart stayed in the race until the Democratic convention in July, when Mondale captured the nomination.
In April 1987, Hart announced that he was running for president again. But only a month later, he suspended his campaign after newspaper articles revealed a possible affair Hart was having with a woman later identified as Donna Rice.
Hart re-entered the race in December but later withdrew after a poor showing on Super Tuesday on March 8, 1988.
The tale of Hart’s 1988 presidential campaign is the subject of the new film “The Front Runner,” starring Hugh Jackman as Hart and now playing in theaters.
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