[AllPolitics - DNC '96 - Players]

Bill Clinton
Political Career

               1974 U.S CONGRESS
               REP. JOHN PAUL HAMMERSCHMIDT  52% 
               BILL CLINTON                  48%

Clinton attempted to launch his political career when he was 28 years old by challenging an entrenched Republican incumbent Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt in 1974. Hammerschmidt was first elected to Congress in 1966 to serve Arkansas' Third district, which is in the northwestern part of the state, and a Republican stronghold. Hammerschmidt had received 77 percent of the vote in the 1972 election. Clinton came close, losing by only 5000 votes out of 170,000 votes cast.

Helping to defeat Clinton were Republican claims that he was an anti-war protester while in college. Although Clinton was narrowly defeated, the race drew statewide attention.

CLINTON                       56%
GEORGE JERNIGAN               25%
CLARENCE CASH                 19%
attorney general

Since Clinton was unopposed in the general election, he directed Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign in Arkansas. As Attorney General, Clinton fought against pollution and worked to hold down electricity and telephone rates. He also repealed bans on advertising for liquor and eyeglasses. He opposed a campaign to end the state sales tax on food and medicine.

1978 - GOVERNOR  
CLINTON                       63%
A. LYNN LOWE                  37%
swearing in

Clinton was 32 when he became governor, and was perceived as something of a political "wonder boy." Clinton recruited some of his college and law school friends to help his administration but they were viewed as "outsiders" who thought of Arkansas as a state of "country bumpkins." Nor were people comfortable with Hillary's feminist agenda or her disregard of social protocol.

Clinton had promised to improve Arkansas' roads if he was elected. He raised taxes in order to fulfill his promise.

1980 - GOVERNOR 
FRANK WHITE                   52%
CLINTON                       48%
young gov.

Arkansas voters rejected Clinton after one term, in part, from their perception that Clinton and his wife Hillary were arrogant. (Hillary used her maiden name throughout the term).

In addition, voters were angry that Clinton had raised auto license fees to pay for highway improvements. Frank White, a savings and loan president from Little Rock, focused on Clinton's increases in the gasoline tax and auto registration fees. He also said the Clinton administration was characterized by overspending and inefficiency. In the year of the Reagan landslide, Clinton also caught part of the backlash generated when the Carter administration housed Cuban refugees at an Arkansas military base (Fort Chaffee) and the Cubans rioted.

Clinton was devastated by the loss, and spent the next two years trying to get back in touch with Arkansas voters, and readjusting his message to appear more centrist.

1982 - GOVERNOR 
CLINTON                       55%
FRANK WHITE                   45%

Clinton asked voters for another chance, promising he had "learned from defeat that you can't lead without listening." He was forced into a runoff in the Democratic primary, finally defeating former Lt. Governor Joe Purcell. During their 1982 rematch, Clinton portrayed Gov. White as untrustworthy and dominated by special interests. He also attacked White for not fulfilling a 1980 campaign promise to bring new industries to the state. He blamed utility rate increases on White's appointees to the state utilities commission.

White also was vulnerable because of a controversial law he'd approved calling for the teaching of "creation science" (the biblical version of creation) along with the theory of evolution in Arkansas' schools. (The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law in 1982). White ran TV ads using a leopard, reminding voters that Clinton couldn't change his spots. White also attacked Clinton for commuting death sentences during his term as governor. Clinton responded by promising to be more restrained about issuing commutations if reelected.

Clinton and Hillary worked very hard to do all the right things at the start of the 1983 term. Hillary adopted her husband's last name and made a point of appearing at the proper social occasions. One major change in Bill Clinton's style was to focus on issues one at a time, forming committees to study problems, then convincing the legislature to approve specific recommendations.


In 1983, Clinton's main issue was education. He appointed Hillary to chair the state committee on educational standards. After holding hearings around the state, the committee came up with a number of suggestions including teacher examinations, which was bitterly opposed by the teachers' union. Some of the teachers' anger was directed at Hillary (an article in May 1992's Vanity Fair quotes one librarian who described Hillary as "lower than a snake's belly"). In a special session of the legislature in the fall of 1983, Clinton pushed through a comprehensive education improvement program which included the teacher examination requirement.

During Clinton's second term, (1984) State Police arrested Clinton's half-brother Roger for selling cocaine. Police had come to the governor with their information, and Clinton had given the okay for the investigation to proceed. Roger Clinton served more than a year in prison, and later underwent therapy for alcohol addiction.

CLINTON                       63%
& Hillary

During the 1984 campaign against contractor "Woody" Freeman, Clinton pointed to his decisiveness in pushing through education reform. He also used the anger of the teachers' union as a political asset.

After easily winning reelection, Clinton announced his new focus would be on economic development. He recommended new programs, but the state went into an economic slump and the legislature lost interest in Clinton's proposals.

1986 - GOVERNOR 
CLINTON                       64%
FRANK WHITE                   36%

Clinton was challenged by 76 year-old former Gov. Orval Faubus in the Democratic primary, which Clinton won 66 percent to 33 percent. The 1986 general election ended up as another race between Clinton and former Gov. Frank White, who had beaten him in 1980. This time, Clinton won easily. Beginning in 1987, the Arkansas Governor's term in office increased from two years to four years.

Clinton served a one-year term as chairman of the National Governors Association in 1986-1987. He used his travels to explore the possibility of running for president in 1988. By July of 1987 he was prepared to announce he would enter the 1988 Democratic race. But the morning the announcement had been scheduled, July 14, Clinton told his friends he had changed his mind. They say Clinton and Hillary were concerned about the effect of the scrutiny of a campaign on their seven year old daughter Chelsea. Clinton told the New York Times (Aug. 16, 1987) "Mentally I was 100 percent committed to the race, but emotionally I wasn't." He said his decision was not affected by fear of scrutiny of his private life in the wake of the Gary Hart/Donna Rice scandal.

In a June 24, 1988 Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, Clinton complained "America is falling apart, literally." He outlined a program that would include "accelerated spending of the federal highway, transit, aviation and waterways trust funds."

CLINTON                       57%
SHEFFIELD NELSON              42%

Clinton began the 1990 campaign by acknowledging "the fire of an election no longer burns in me." While campaigning, he promised to serve the full term, meaning he ("absolutely, positively") would not run for president in 1992. Clinton survived a primary challenge from Tom McRae, an executive of a charitable organization, and defeated a former utilities executive, Sheffield Nelson, in the general election.

During the 1991 legislative session, Clinton again focused on education, pushing through a variety of tax increases to raise money for school programs as well as for an increase in teacher salaries. The teacher pay raise finally improved his standing with the teachers' union.

As late as March, 1991, Clinton was telling reporters he did not intend to run for president. Things changed quickly. By May, Clinton was dropping hints he no longer felt bound by his pledge to serve his full term. In a speech at the May meeting of the Democratic Leadership Council, he said, "Our burden is to give the people a new choice...We are not here to save the Democratic Party. We are here to save the United States of America."

On August 15th, he resigned as chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council. He promised an announcement on a possible presidential race by Labor Day, but the final decision didn't come until early October.

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