Clinton Is Defensive at Hometown Pep Rally


It was billed as Super Saturday, a celebration of Bill Clinton's governorship featuring a hometown parade and pep rally for the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

There were high school bands in full regalia, an Uncle Sam on stilts, American flags hoisted high--all of what you would expect if Norman Rockwell had engineered the event.

But there was something more noticeable--crowds that were frequently sparse and a candidate who seemed strangely defensive, given the love fest.

While the size of the turnout might have been a surprise, Clinton's attitude surely was not. He has been trying mightily of late to catch the ear of voters with doubts about him, only to have his efforts drowned out in the tidal wave of curiosity about Texas billionaire Ross Perot, who is expected shortly to announce an independent bid for the presidency. And Clinton's frustration has been evident.

Speaking Saturday to several hundred people gathered at a rally next to Little Rock's historic Capital Hotel, he defended his record as Arkansas' governor and strongly implied that it set a standard to which the other presidential candidates should be compared.

"We know that instead of pointing fingers, we've lifted people up," he said. "People talk a lot in national politics. And as I have learned the hard way, sometimes words count for more than deeds. It is a word game.

"Most people don't know you, can't know you, only see you by television. We know how to keep score down here--by commitment and change and keeping people together. It's one thing to talk about change and another to make it."

Clinton, who has been Arkansas' governor for all but two of the last 14 years, said he was the only candidate in the race who had worked throughout the economic difficulties of the 1980s to provide jobs, money for education, health care and racial acceptance.

"Leadership is easier to talk about if you never had to do it," he declared. "Change is easier to embrace if you don't know how hard it is. But in the end, what really counts, is commitment."

Although these remarks seemed to be a jab at Perot, Clinton only smiled when asked afterward if that was what he had intended.

"I'm not going to characterize it," he said. "I was stating our position."

Throughout the day, Clinton appeared buoyant, as though coming home after an exhaustive campaign week had restored him. He walked the eight blocks of the parade with his wife, Hillary, and their 12-year-old daughter, Chelsea, holding their hands and frequently stopping to wave at or greet supporters.

The parade was organized by private business interests supporting Clinton, and represented in it were a host of Arkansas counties and towns, including tiny Hope, Ark., where Clinton grew up, and Evening Shade, the namesake of the CBS television series produced by Clinton friends Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and Harry Thomason.

Crowds along the way, although enthusiastic, were noticeably thin. And protesters joined with Clinton supporters to swell the numbers.

Even before it began, the parade had generated controversy. The executive director of the state Republican Party was quoted in Saturday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette as saying it was "completely improper" for the state to use taxpayer funds to transport the high school bands to Little Rock for what amounted to a political event.

The Clinton campaign initially said that the private organizers had footed the bill. But late Saturday, the campaign acknowledged that the bands had not yet been reimbursed for travel expenses.

"This was an oversight," said campaign press secretary Dee Dee Myers, adding that it would be corrected.

For Clinton's supporters, the day was partially designed to remind outsiders that he has a power base from which to campaign.

A staple of his candidacy has been his assertion that America should rely on the instincts of Arkansans, who he says know him best and five times have voted him their governor. The state's two Democratic senators, Dale Bumpers and David Pryor, did their best Saturday to reinforce that theme in speeches at the rally.

"We know Bill Clinton, we know Hillary Clinton, and we can say without reservation that they should be in the White House," Pryor said.

Clinton expounded on "family values," a phrase that has dominated political discourse since Vice President Dan Quayle last week criticized the "Murphy Brown" television show for "glamorizing" an out-of-wedlock birth.

"There's been a lot of talk about family values lately," Clinton said. "Well, I consider myself to be a pro-values, pro-growth, pro-jobs, pro-education, pro-choice Democrat. I believe in family values."

He said he would like to "thank Hillary and Chelsea for sticking in there with me and giving the American people a real example of family values under fire."

"Every family needs a home and needs a commitment to stay together and deal with the problems that life brings," added Clinton, who earlier this year had to respond to unsubstantiated allegations of womanizing.

Clinton plans to spend the Memorial Day weekend in Little Rock. On Tuesday, he will cast his ballot in the Arkansas primary.

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