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T he next morning, July 17, Al, Tipper, Hillary, and I drove over to New Jersey to begin the first of several bus tours across America. They were designed to bring us into small towns and rural areas never visited in modern presidential campaigns, which had become dominated by rallies in major media markets. We hoped the bus tour, the brainchild of Susan Thomases and David Wilhelm, would keep the excitement and momentum of the convention going..cheap prom dresses.
The trip was a 1,000-mile jaunt through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois. It was filled with stump speeches and handshaking at scheduled and unscheduled stops. On the first day, we worked our way through eastern and central Pennsylvania, reaching our last stop, York, at 2 a.m. Thousands of people had waited up for us. Al gave his best 2 a.m. version of the stump speech. I did the same, and then we shook supporters hands for the better part of an hour before the four of us collapsed for a few hours sleep. We spent the next day riding across Pennsylvania, bonding with each other as well as the crowds, growing more and more relaxed and excited, buoyed by the enthusiasm of people who came out to see us at the rallies or just along the highway. At a truck stop in Carlisle, Al and I climbed up into the big trucks to shake hands with drivers. At a Pennsylvania Turnpike rest stop, we tossed a football in the parking lot. Somewhere on the trip we even fit in a round of miniature golf. On the third day, we worked our way out of western Pennsylvania and into West Virginia, where we toured Weirton Steel, a large integrated producer that the employees had bought from its former owner and kept running. That night we went to Gene Branstools farm near Utica, Ohio, for a cookout with a couple hundred farmers and their families, then stopped in a nearby field, where ten thousand people were waiting. I was stunned by two things: the size of the crowd and the size of the corn crop. It was the tallest and thickest I had ever seen, a good omen. The next day we visited Columbus, Ohios capital city, then made our way into Kentucky. As we crossed the state line, I was convinced we could win Ohio, as Jimmy Carter had done in 1976. It was important. Since the Civil War, no Republican had won the presidency without capturing Ohio..cheap wedding dresses.
On the fifth and final day, after a big rally in Louisville, we drove through southern Indiana and into southern Illinois. All along the way, people were standing in fields and along the road waving our signs. We passed a big combine all decked out in an American flag and a Clinton-Gore poster. By the time we got to Illinois, we were late, as we were every day, because of all the unscheduled stops. We didnt need any more of them, but a small group was standing at a crossroads holding a big sign that said Give us eight minutes and well give you eight years! We stopped. The last rally of the evening was one of the most remarkable of the campaign. When we pulled into Vandalia, thousands of people holding candles had filled the square around the old state Capitol Building where Abraham Lincoln had served a term in the legislature before the seat of government was moved to Springfield. It was very late when we finally pulled into St. Louis for another short night..cheap prom dresses.
The bus tour was a smashing success. It took us, and the national media, to places in the American heartland too often overlooked. America saw us reaching out to the people we had promised to represent in Washington, which made it harder for the Republicans to paint us as cultural and political radicals. And Al, Tipper, Hillary, and I had gotten to know one another in a way that would have been impossible without those long hours on the bus..Giuseppe Zanotti replica.
The next month we did four more bus tours, this time shorter ones of one or two days. The second tour took us up the Mississippi River, from St. Louis to Hannibal, Missouri, Mark Twains hometown, to Davenport, Iowa, up through Wisconsin, and all the way to Minneapolis, where Walter Mondale held a crowd of ten thousand for two hours by giving them regular updates on our progress..cartier love bracelet replica.
The most memorable moment of the second bus tour came in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where, after a meeting on biotechnology and a tour of the Quaker Oats packaging plant, we held a rally in the parking lot. The crowd was large and enthusiastic, except for a loud group of opponents holding pro-life signs and jeering at me from the back. After the speeches, I got off the stage and began working the crowd. I was surprised to see a white woman wearing a pro-choice button and holding a black baby in her arms. When I asked her whose child it was, she beamed and said, Shes my baby. Her name is Jamiya. The woman told me that the child was born HIV-positive in Florida, and she had adopted her, even though she was a divorce struggling to raise two children on her own. Ill never forget that woman holding Jamiya and proudly proclaiming, Shes my baby. She, too, was pro-life, just the kind of person I was trying to give a better shot at the American dream...
Later in the month, we did a one-day tour of Californias San Joaquin Valley, and two-day trips through Texas and what wed missed of Ohio and Pennsylvania, ending up in western New York. In September we bused through south Georgia. In October we did two days in Michigan and, in one hectic day, made ten towns in North Carolina...
I had never seen anything like the sustained enthusiasm the bus trips engendered. Of course, part of it was that people in small towns werent accustomed to seeing presidential candidates up closeplaces like Coatesville, Pennsylvania; Centralia, Illinois; Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin; Walnut Grove, California; Tyler, Texas; Valdosta, Georgia; and Elon, North Carolina. But mostly it was the connection our bus made between the people and the campaign. It represented both the common touch and forward progress. In 1992, Americans were worried but still hopeful. We spoke to their fears and validated their enduring optimism. Al and I developed a good routine. At each stop, he would list all of Americas problems and say, Everything that should be down is up, and everything that should be up is down. Then he would introduce me and Id tell people what we intended to do to fix it. I loved those bus tours. We motored through sixteen states and in November won thirteen of them...
After the first bus tour, one national poll showed me with a two-to-one lead over President Bush, but I didnt take it too seriously because he hadnt really started to campaign. He began in the last week of July, with a series of attacks. He said that my plan to trim defense increases would cost a million jobs; that my health-care plan would be a government-run program with the compassion of the KGB; that I wanted the largest tax increase in history; and that he would set a better moral tone as President than I would. His aide Mary Matalin edged out Dan Quayle in the race for the campaigns pit bull, calling me a sniveling hypocrite. Later in the campaign, with Bush sinking, a lot of his careerist appointees started leaking to the press that it was anybodys fault but theirs. Some of them were even critical of the President. Not Mary. She stood by her man to the end. Ironically, Mary Matalin and James Carville were engaged and soon would be married. Although they were from opposite ends of the political spectrum, they were equally aggressive true believers whose love added spice to their lives, and whose politics enlivened both the Bush campaign and mine...
In the second week of August, President Bush persuaded James Baker to resign as secretary of state and return to the White House to oversee his campaign. I thought Baker had done a good job at State, except on Bosnia, where I felt the administration should have opposed the ethnic cleansing more vigorously. And I knew he was a good politician who would make the Bush campaign more effective...
Our campaign needed to be more effective, too. We had won the nomination by organizing around the primary schedule. Now that the convention was behind us, we needed much better coordination among all the forces, with a single strategic center. James Carville took it on. He needed an assistant. Because Paul Begalas wife, Diane, was expecting their first child, he couldnt come to Little Rock full-time, so reluctantly, I gave up George Stephanopoulos from the campaign plane. George had demonstrated a keen understanding of how the twenty-four-hour news cycle worked, and now knew we could fight bad press as well as enjoy the good stories. He was the best choice...
James put all the elements of the campaignpolitics, press, and researchinto a big open space in the old newsroom of the Arkansas Gazette building. It broke down barriers and built a sense of camaraderie. Hillary said it was like a war room, and the name stuck. Carville put a sign on the wall as a constant reminder of what the campaign was about. It had just three lines:..
Change vs. More of the Same..
The Economy, stupid..
Dont forget health care
Carville also captured his main battle tactic in a slogan he had printed on a T-shirt: Speed Kills . . . Bush. The War Room held meetings every day at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. to assess Stan Greenbergs overnight polls, Frank Greers latest ads, the news, and the attacks from Bush, and to formulate responses to the attacks and unfolding events. Meanwhile, young volunteers worked around the clock, pulling in whatever information they could get from our satellite dish, tracking the news and the opposition on their computers. Its all routine stuff now, but then it was new, and our use of technology was essential to the campaigns ability to meet Carvilles goal of being focused and fast.
Once we knew what we wanted to say, we got the message out, not only to the media but to our rapid-response teams in every state, whose job it was to transmit it to our supporters and local news outlets. We sent pins with Rapid-Response Team on them to those who agreed to do daily duty. By the end of the campaign, thousands of people were wearing them.
By the time I got my morning briefing from Carville, Stephanopoulos, and whoever else needed to be on call that day, they could lay out exactly where we were and what we needed to do. If I disagreed, we argued. If there was a close policy or strategic call, I made it. But mostly I just listened in amazement. Sometimes I complained about what wasnt going well, like speeches I thought were long on rhetoric and short on argument and substance, or the backbreaking schedule that was more my fault than theirs. Because of allergies and exhaustion, I griped too much in the mornings. Luckily, Carville and I were on the same wavelength, and he always knew when I was serious and when I was just blowing off steam. I think the others on call came to understand it too.
The Republicans held their convention in Houston in the third week of August. Normally, the opposition goes underground during the other partys convention. Though I would follow the usual practice and keep a low profile, our rapid-response operation would be out in force. It had to be. The Republicans had no choice but to throw the kitchen sink at me. They were way behind, and their slash-and-burn approach had worked in every election since 1968, except for President Carters two-point victory in the aftermath of Watergate. We were determined to use the rapid-response team to turn the Republican attacks back on them.
On August 17, as their convention opened, I still had a twenty-point lead, and we rained on their parade a little when eighteen corporate chief executives endorsed me. It was a good story, but it didnt divert the Republicans from their game plan. They started off by calling me a skirt chaser and a draft dodger, and accused Hillary of wanting to destroy the American family by allowing children to sue their parents whenever they disagreed with parental disciplinary decisions. Marilyn Quayle, the vice presidents wife, was particularly critical of Hillarys alleged assault on family values. The criticisms were based on a wildly distorted reading of an article Hillary had written when she was in law school, arguing that, in circumstances of abuse or severe neglect, minor children had legal rights independent of their parents. Almost all Americans would agree with a fair reading of her words, but, of course, since so few people had seen her article, hardly anyone who heard the charges knew whether they were true or not.
The main attraction on the Republicans opening night was Pat Buchanan, who sent the delegates into a frenzy with his attacks on me. My favorite lines included his assertion that, while President Bush had presided over the liberation of Eastern Europe, my foreign policy experience was pretty much confined to having had breakfast once at the International House of Pancakes and his characterization of the Democratic convention as radicals and liberals . . . dressed up as moderates and centrists in the greatest single exhibition of cross-dressing in American political history. The polls showed Buchanan hadnt helped Bush, but I disagreed. His job was to stop the hemorrhaging on the right by telling conservatives who wanted change that they couldnt vote for me, and he did it well.
The Clinton-bashing continued throughout the convention, with our rapid-response operation firing back. The Reverend Pat Robertson referred to me as Slick Willie and said I had a radical plan to destroy the American family. Since I had been for welfare reform before Robertson figured out that God was a right-wing Republican, the charge was laughable. Our rapid-response team beat it back. They were also especially good at defending Hillary from the anti-family attacks, comparing the Republicans treatment of her to their Willie Horton tactics against Dukakis four years earlier.
To reinforce our claim that the Republicans were attacking me because all they cared about was holding on to power, while we wanted power to attack Americas problems, Al, Tipper, Hillary, and I had dinner with President and Mrs. Carter on August 18. Then we all spent the next dayboth Tippers and my birthdaybuilding a house with members of Habitat for Humanity. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter had supported Habitat for years. The brainchild of Millard Fuller, a friend of ours from Renaissance Weekend, Habitat uses volunteers to build houses for and with poor people, who then pay for the cost of the materials. The organization had already become one of Americas largest home builders and was expanding into other countries. Our work presented a perfect contrast to the shrill attacks of the Republicans.
President Bush made a surprise visit to the convention on the night he was nominated, as I had, bringing his entire all-American-looking family. The next night, he gave an effective speech, wrapping himself in God, country, and family, and asserting that, unfortunately, I didnt embrace those values. He also said that he had made a mistake in signing the deficit-reduction bill with its gas-tax hike and that, if reelected, hed cut taxes again. I thought his best line was saying I would use Elvis economics to take America to Heartbreak Hotel. He contrasted his service in World War II with my opposition to Vietnam by saying, While I bit the bullet, he bit his nails.
Now the Republicans had had their free shot at America, and though the conventional wisdom was that they had been too negative and extreme, the polls showed they had cut into my lead. One poll had the race down to ten points, another to five. I thought that was about right, and that if I didnt blow the debates or make some other error, the final margin would be somewhere between what the two surveys showed.
President Bush left Houston in a feisty mood, comparing his campaign to Harry Trumans miraculous comeback victory in 1948. He also went around the country doing what only incumbents can do: spending federal money to get votes. He pledged aid to wheat farmers and the victims of Hurricane Andrew, which had devastated much of south Florida, and he offered to sell 150 F-16 fighter planes to Taiwan and 72 F-15s to Saudi Arabia, securing jobs in defense plants located in critical states.
In late August, we both appeared before the American Legion Convention in Chicago. President Bush got a better reception than I did from his fellow veterans, but I did better than expected by confronting the draft issue and my opposition to the Vietnam War head-on. I said I still believed the Vietnam War was a mistake, but if you choose to vote against me because of what happened twenty-three years ago, thats your right as an American citizen, and I respect that. But it is my hope that you will cast your vote while looking toward the future. I also got a good round of applause by promising new leadership at the Department of Veterans Affairs, whose director was unpopular with the veterans groups.
After the American Legion meeting, I got back to my message of changing Americas direction in economic and social policy, bolstered by a new study showing that the rich were getting richer while poor Americans were getting poorer. In early September, I was endorsed by two important environmental groups, the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters. And I went to Florida a few days after President Bush did to observe the damage from Hurricane Andrew. I had dealt with a lot of natural disasters as governor, including floods, droughts, and tornadoes, but I had never seen anything like this. As I walked down streets littered with the wet ruins of houses, I was surprised to hear complaints from both local officials and residents about how the Federal Emergency Management Agency was handling the aftermath of the hurricane. Traditionally, the job of FEMA director was given to a political supporter of the President who wanted some plum position but who had had no experience with emergencies. I made a mental note to avoid that mistake if I won. Voters dont choose a President based on how hell handle disasters, but if theyre faced with one, it quickly becomes the most important issue in their lives.
On Labor Day, the traditional opening of the general election campaign, I went to Harry Trumans hometown of Independence, Missouri, to rally working people to our cause. Trumans outspoken daughter, Margaret, helped by saying at the rally that I, not George Bush, was the rightful heir to her fathers legacy.
On September 11, I went to South Bend, Indiana, to deliver an address to the students and faculty at Notre Dame, Americas most famous Catholic university. On the same day, President Bush was in Virginia to address the conservative Christian Coalition. I knew Catholics across the country would take notice of both events. The church hierarchy agreed with Bushs opposition to abortion, but I was far closer to the Catholic positions on economic and social justice. The Notre Dame appearance bore a striking resemblance, with roles reversed, to John Kennedys 1960 speech to the Southern Baptist ministers. Paul Begala, a devout Catholic, helped prepare my remarks, and Boston mayor Ray Flynn and Senator Harris Wofford came along to lend moral support. I was nearly halfway through the speech before I could tell how it was going. When I said, All of us must respect the reflection of Gods image in every man and woman, and so we must value their freedom, not just their political freedom, but their freedom of conscience in matters of family and philosophy and faith, there was a standing ovation.
After Notre Dame, I went out west. In Salt Lake City, I made my case to the National Guard Convention, where I was well received, because my reputation for leading the Arkansas National Guard was good, and because I was introduced by Congressman Les Aspin, the respected chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. In Portland, Oregon, we had an amazing rally. Over ten thousand people filled the downtown streets, with many more leaning out of their office windows. During the speeches, supporters threw hundreds of roses onto the stage, a nice gesture in Oregons City of Roses. For more than an hour after the event, I went up and down the streets, shaking hands with what seemed like thousands of people.
On September 15, the western swing got its biggest boost when thirty high-tech leaders in traditionally Republican Silicon Valley endorsed me. I had been working on Silicon Valley since the previous December, with the help of Dave Barram, vice president of Apple Computer. Dave had been recruited to the campaign by Ira Magaziner, my friend from Oxford, who had worked with high-tech executives and knew that Barram was a Democrat. Many of Barrams Republican cohorts shared his disillusionment with the economic policies of the Bush administration and its failure to appreciate the explosive potential of Silicon Valleys entrepreneurs. A few days before my first trip, according to the San Jose Mercury News, President Bushs trade representative, Carla Hills, had endorsed the view that it makes no difference whether the United States exports potato chips or silicon chips. The high-tech executives disagreed, and so did I.
Among those who came out for me were prominent Republicans like John Young, president of Hewlett-Packard; John Sculley, chairman of Apple Computer; investment banker Sandy Robertson; and one of Silicon Valleys few open Democrats at the time, Regis McKenna. At our meeting in the Technology Center of Silicon Valley at San Jose, I also issued a national technology policy, which Dave Barram had worked for months to help me prepare. In calling for greater investment in scientific and technological research and development, including specific projects important to Silicon Valley, I staked out a position at odds with the Bush administrations aversion to government-industry partnerships. At the time, Japan and Germany were outperforming America economically, in part because government policy in those countries was targeted to support potential areas of growth. By contrast, American policy was to subsidize politically powerful, established interests like oil and agriculture, which were important but which had much less potential than technology to generate new jobs and new entrepreneurs. The high-tech leaders announcement provided an enormous boost to the campaign, giving credibility to my claim to be pro-business as well as pro-labor, and linking me to the economic forces that most represented positive change and growth.
While I was garnering support for rebuilding the economy and reforming health care, the Republicans were working hard to tear me down. President Bush, in his convention speech, had accused me of raising taxes 128 times in Arkansas and enjoying it every time. In early September, the Bush campaign repeated the charge again and again, though the New York Times said it was false, the Washington Post called it highly exaggerated and silly, and even the Wall Street Journal said it was misleading. The Bush list included a requirement that used-car dealers post a $25,000 bond, modest fees for beauty pageants, and a one-dollar court cost imposed on convicted criminals. Conservative columnist George Will said that, by the Presidents criteria, Bush has raised taxes more often in four years than Clinton has in ten.
The Bush campaign devoted most of the rest of September to attacking me on the draft. President Bush said over and over that I should just tell the truth about it. Even Dan Quayle felt free to go after me on it, despite the fact that his family connections had gotten him into the National Guard and away from Vietnam. The vice presidents main point seemed to be that the media werent giving my case the same critical scrutiny he had received four years earlier. Apparently he hadnt followed the news out of New Hampshire and New York.
I got some good help in countering the draft attack. In early September, Senator Bob Kerrey, my Medal of Honorwinning primary opponent, said it shouldnt be an issue. Then on the eighteenth, on the back lawn of the Arkansas Governors Mansion, I received the endorsement of Admiral Bill Crowe, who had been chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Reagan and briefly under Bush. I was very impressed by Crowes straightforward, down-home manner and deeply grateful that he would stick his neck out for someone he barely knew but had come to believe in.
The political impact of what Bush and I were doing was uncertain. Some of his convention edge had worn off, but throughout September the polls bounced back and forth between a lead of 9 and 20 percent for me. The basic dynamic of the campaign had been set: Bush claimed to represent family values and trustworthiness, while I was for economic and social change. He said I was untrustworthy and anti-family, while I said he was dividing America and holding us back. On any given day, a substantial number of voters were torn between which one of us was better.
Besides the issues dispute, we spent September arguing about the debates. The bipartisan national commission recommended three of them, with different formats. I accepted immediately, but President Bush didnt like the commissions debate formats. I claimed his objections were a fig leaf to cover his reluctance to defend his record. The disagreement continued for most of the month, which forced all three of the scheduled debates to be canceled. As they were, I went to each of the proposed debate sites to campaign, making sure the disappointed citizens knew who had cost their cities their moment in the national spotlight.
The worst thing to happen to us in September was far more personal than political. Paul Tully, the veteran Irish organizer Ron Brown had sent to Little Rock to coordinate the Democratic Partys efforts with ours, dropped dead in his hotel room. Tully was only forty-eight, an old-school political pro and a fine man we had all come to adore and depend on. Just as we were entering the homestretch, another of our leaders was gone.
The month ended with some surprising developments. Earvin Magic Johnson, the HIV-positive former All-Star guard of the Los Angeles Lakers, abruptly resigned from the National Commission on HIV/AIDS and endorsed me, disgusted with the administrations lack of attention to, and action on, the AIDS problem. President Bush changed his mind about the debates and challenged me to four of them. And, most surprising, Ross Perot said he was thinking of reentering the presidential race, because he didnt think the President or I had a serious plan to reduce the deficit. He criticized Bush for his no-tax pledge and said I wanted to spend too much money. Perot invited both campaigns to send delegations to meet him and discuss the matter.
Because neither of us knew which of us would be hurt more if Perot got back in, and we both wanted his support if he didnt, each campaign sent a high-level team to meet with him. Our side was uneasy about it, because we thought he had already decided to run and this was just high theater to increase his prestige, but in the end I agreed that we ought to keep reaching out to him. Senator Lloyd Bentsen, Mickey Kantor, and Vernon Jordan went on my behalf. They got a cordial reception, as did the Bush people. Perot announced that he had learned a lot from both groups. Then a couple of days later, on October 1, Perot announced that he felt compelled to get back into the race as a servant of his volunteers. He had been helped by quitting the race back in July. In the ten weeks he was out of it, the memory of his nutty fight with Bush the previous spring had faded, while the President and I had kept each others problems fresh in the public mind. Now the voters and the press took him even more seriously because the two of us had courted him so visibly.
As Perot was getting back in, we finally reached an agreement with the Bush people on debates. There would be three of them, plus a vice-presidential debate, all crammed into nine days, between October 11 and 19. In the first and third, we would be questioned by members of the press. The second would be a town hall meeting in which citizens would ask the questions. At first, the Bush people didnt want Perot in the debates, because they thought he would be attacking the President, and any extra votes he garnered would come from potential Bush supporters rather than those who might go for me. I said I had no objection to Perots inclusion, not because I agreed that Perot would hurt Bush moreI wasnt convinced of thatbut because I felt that, in the end, he would have to be included and I didnt want to look like a chicken. By October 4, both campaigns agreed to invite Perot to participate.
In the week leading up to the first debate, I finally endorsed the controversial North American Free Trade Agreement, which the Bush administration had negotiated with Canada and Mexico, with the caveat that I wanted to negotiate side agreements ensuring basic labor and environmental standards that would be binding on Mexico. My labor supporters were worried about the loss of low-wage manufacturing jobs to our southern neighbor and strongly disagreed with my position, but I felt compelled to take it, for both economic and political reasons. I was a free-trader at heart, and I thought America had to support Mexicos economic growth to ensure long-term stability in our hemisphere. A couple of days later, more than 550 economists, including nine Nobel Prize winners, endorsed my economic program, saying it was more likely than the Presidents proposals to restore economic growth.
Just as I was determined to focus on economics in the run-up to the debates, the Bush camp was equally determined to keep undermining my character and reputation for honesty. They were facilitating a search request with the National Records Center in Suitland, Maryland, for all the information in my passport files on my forty-day trip to northern Europe, the Soviet Union, and Czechoslovakia back in 196970. Apparently, they were chasing down bogus rumors that I had gone to Moscow to pursue anti-war activities or had tried to apply for citizenship in another country to avoid the draft. On October 5, there were news reports that the files had been tampered with. The passport story dragged out all month. Though the FBI said the files had not been tampered with, what had occurred put the Bush campaign in a bad light. A senior State Department political appointee pushed the National Records Center, which had more than 100 million files, to put the search of mine ahead of two thousand other requests that had been filed earlier, and that normally took months to process. A Bush appointee also ordered the U.S. embassies in London and Oslo to conduct an extremely thorough search of their files for information on my draft status and citizenship. At some point, it was revealed that even my mothers passport files were searched. It was hard to imagine that even the most paranoid right-wingers could think that a country girl from Arkansas who loved the races was subversive.
Later, it came out that the Bush people had also asked John Majors government to look into my activities in England. According to news reports, the Tories complied, although they claimed their comprehensive but fruitless search of their immigration and naturalization documents was in response to press inquiries. I know they did some further work on it, because a friend of David Edwardss told David that British officials had questioned him about what David and I did in those long-ago days. Two Tory campaign strategists came to Washington to advise the Bush campaign on how they might destroy me the way the Conservative Party had undone Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock six months earlier. After the election, the British press fretted that the special relationship between our two countries had been damaged by this unusual British involvement in American politics. I was determined that there would be no damage, but I wanted the Tories to worry about it for a while.
The press had a field day with the passport escapade, and Al Gore called it a McCarthyite abuse of power. Undeterred, the President kept asking me to explain the trip to Moscow and continued to question my patriotism. In an interview on CNN with Larry King, I said I loved my country and had never considered giving up my American citizenship. I dont think the public paid much attention to the passport flap one way or the other, and I was kind of amused by the whole thing. Of course it was an abuse of power, but a pathetically small one compared with Iran-Contra. It just showed how desperate the Bush people were to hang on to power, and how little they had to offer for Americas future. If they wanted to spend the last month of the campaign barking up the wrong tree, that was fine with me.
In the days leading up to the first debate, I worked hard to be well prepared. I studied the briefing book diligently and participated in several mock-debate sessions. President Bush was played by Washington lawyer Bob Barnett, who had performed the same role four years earlier for Dukakis. Perots stand-in was Congressman Mike Synar of Oklahoma, who had Rosss sayings and accent down pat. Bob and Mike wore me out in tough encounters before each debate. After each of our sessions, I was just glad I didnt have to debate them; the election might have turned out differently.
The first debate was finally held on Sunday, October 11, Hillarys and my seventeenth wedding anniversary, at Washington University in St. Louis. I went into it encouraged by the endorsements in that mornings editions of the Washington Post and the Louisville Courier-Journal. The Post editorial said, This country is drifting and worn down; it badly needs to be reenergized and given new direction. Bill Clinton is the only candidate with a chance of doing that. That was exactly the argument I wanted to make in the debate. Yet despite my lead in the polls and the Post endorsement, I was on edge, because I knew I had the most to lose. In a new Gallup poll, 44 percent of the respondents said they expected me to win the debate, and 30 percent said they could be swayed by it. President Bush and his advisors had decided the only way to sway that 30 percent was to beat people over the head with my alleged character problems until the message sunk in. Now, in addition to the draft, the Moscow trip, and the citizenship rumor, the President was attacking me for participating in anti-war demonstrations in London against the United States of America, when our kids are dying halfway around the world.
Perot got the first question from one of three journalists, who rotated in a process moderated by Jim Lehrer of The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. He was given two minutes to say what separated him from the other two candidates. Ross said he was supported by the people, not parties or special interests. Bush and I got one minute to respond. I said I represented change. The President said he had experience. We then discussed experience. Then President Bush was given his moment: Are there important issues of character separating you from these two men? He hit me on the draft. Perot responded that Bush had made his mistakes as a mature man in the White House, not as a young student. I said that Bushs father, as a U.S. senator from Connecticut, was right to criticize Senator Joe McCarthy for attacking the patriotism of loyal Americans, and the President was wrong to attack my patriotism, and that what America needed was a President who would bring our country together, not divide it.
We went on like that for an hour and a half, discussing taxes, defense, the deficit, jobs and the changing economy, foreign policy, crime, Bosnia, the definition of family, the legalization of marijuana, racial divisions, AIDS, Medicare, and health-care reform.
All of us did reasonably well. After the debate the press was hustled by each candidates spinners saying why their man had won. I had three good ones in Mario Cuomo, James Carville, and Senator Bill Bradley. One of President Bushs boosters, Charlie Black, invited the press to watch a new TV ad attacking me on the draft. The spinners could have some effect on the news stories about the debate, but those who had watched it had already formed their opinions.
I thought that, on balance, I gave the best answers in terms of specifics and arguments, but that Perot did better in presenting himself as folksy and relaxed. When Bush said Perot didnt have government experience, Perot said the President had a point. I dont have any experience in running up a $4 trillion debt. Perot had big jug ears, which were accentuated by his short crew cut. On the deficit he said, Weve got to collect taxes to eliminate it, but if anyone had a better idea, Im all ears. By contrast, I was a bit tight and at times seemed almost overprepared.
The good news was that the President gained no ground. The bad news was that Perot looked credible again. In the beginning, if he rose in the polls, his support would come from genuinely undecided voters or from those leaning toward both the President and me. But I well knew that if Ross rose much above 10 percent, most of his new voters would be those who wanted change but still werent quite comfortable with me. The post-debate polls showed that among those who watched, a significant number now had more confidence in my ability to be President. They also showed that more than 60 percent of those who watched viewed Perot more favorably than they had before the debate. With three weeks to go, he was keeping the race unpredictable.
Two nights later, on October 13, in the vice-presidential debate in Atlanta, Al Gore clearly got the better of Dan Quayle. Perots running mate, retired admiral James Stockdale, was likable but a non-factor, and his performance took a little steam out of the momentum Perot had gained after the St. Louis debate. Quayle was effective in staying on message: Clinton wanted to raise taxes and Bush wouldnt; Clinton had no character and Bush did. He repeated what, in retrospect, was one of my worst public statements. In early 1991, after the Congress authorized President Bush to attack Iraq, I was asked how I would have voted. I was for the resolution, but I answered, I guess I would have voted with the majority if it was a close vote. But I agree with the arguments the minority made. At the time, I hadnt thought I would be running for President in 1992. Both Arkansas senators had voted against authorizing the war. They were my friends, and I just didnt want to embarrass them publicly. When I entered the race, the comment looked wishy-washy and slick. Als strategy was to hit back briefly on Quayles attacks and keep talking about our positive plans for America. His best line was in response to Quayles support for congressional term limits, a pet cause for conservatives: Were fixin to limit one.
Two nights later, on October 15, we had the second debate, in Richmond, Virginia. This was the one I wanted, a town hall meeting where we would be questioned by a representative group of local undecided voters.
My big worry this time was my voice. It was so bad right before the first debate that I could hardly speak above a whisper. When I had lost it during the primary, I saw a specialist in New York and got a voice coach, who taught me a set of exercises to open my throat and push the sound up through my sinus cavities. They involved humming; singing pairs of vowels, back to back, always beginning with e, like e-i, e-o, e-a; and repeating certain phrases to get the feel of pushing the sound up through the damaged cords. My favorite phrase was Abraham Lincoln was a great orator. Whenever I said it, I thought about Lincolns high, almost squeaky voice, and the fact that at least he was smart enough not to lose it. When my voice was off, a lot of the young staffers good-naturedly poked fun at me by repeating the humming exercises. It was funny, but losing my voice wasnt. A politician without a voice isnt worth much. When you lose yours repeatedly, its frightening, because theres always the lurking fear that it wont come back. When it first happened, I thought my allergies had caused it. Then I learned that the problem was acid reflux, a relatively common condition in which stomach acid comes back up the esophagus and scalds the vocal cords, usually during sleep. Later, when I began to take medication and sleep on a wedge to elevate my head and shoulders, it got better. On the eve of the second debate, I was still struggling.
Carole Simpson of ABC News moderated the debate with questions from the audience. The first question, about how to guarantee fairness in trade, went to Ross Perot. He gave an anti-trade answer. The President gave a pro-trade response. I said I was for free and fair trade and we needed to do three things: make sure our trading partners markets were as open as ours; change the tax code to favor modernizing plants at home rather than moving them abroad; and stop giving low-interest loans and job-training funds to companies that move to other countries when we didnt provide the same assistance to needy companies at home.
After trade we went to the deficit, then to negative campaigning. Bush hit me again for demonstrating against the Vietnam War in England. I replied, Im not interested in his character. I want to change the character of the presidency. And Im interested in what we can trust him to do and what you can trust me to do and what you can trust Mr. Perot to do for the next four years.
After that, we discussed a series of issuesthe cities, highways, gun control, term limits, and health-care costs. Then came the question that turned the debate. A woman asked, How has the national debt personally affected each of your lives? And if it hasnt, how can you honestly find a cure for the economic problems of the common people if you have no experience in whats ailing them? Perot went first, saying the debt caused him to disrupt my private life and my business to get involved in this activity. He said he wanted to lift the debt burden from his children and grandchildren. Bush had a hard time saying how he had been affected personally. The questioner kept pushing him, saying shed had friends who had been laid off, who couldnt make their mortgage and car payments. Then, strangely, Bush said hed been to a black church and read in the bulletin about teen pregnancies. Finally, he said its not fair to say you cant know what a problem is like unless you have it. When my turn came, I said Id been governor of a small state for twelve years. I knew people by name who had lost their jobs and businesses. Id met a lot more in the last year all over the country. I had run a state government and seen the human consequences of cuts in federal services. Then I told the questioner that the debt was a big problem, but not the only reason we had no growth: Were in the grip of a failed economic theory. At one point during these exchanges, President Bush made a bad moment worse for himself by nervously looking at his watch. It made him seem even more out of touch. Though we moved on to other matters, like Social Security, pensions, Medicare, Americas responsibilities as a superpower, education, and the possibility of an African-American or a woman being elected President, the debate was essentially over after our answers to the womans question about the personal impact of the debt on us.
President Bush was effective in his closing statement by asking the audience to think about who they wanted to be President if our country faced a major crisis. Perot spoke well about education, the deficit, and the fact that hed paid more than a billion dollars in taxes, and for a guy that started out with everything he owned in the trunk of his car, that aint bad. I began by saying that I had tried to answer the questions specifically and pointedly. I highlighted Arkansas programs in education and jobs and the support I had from twenty-four retired generals and admirals and several Republican businesspeople. I then said, You have to decide whether you want change or not. I urged them to help me replace trickle-down economics with invest-and-grow economics.
I loved the second debate. Whatever questions they had about me, real voters most wanted to know about things that affected their lives. A CBS News post-debate poll of 1,145 voters said 53 percent of them thought I had won, compared with 25 percent for Bush and 21 percent for Perot. Five debate coaches interviewed by the Associated Press said that I had won, based on style, specifics, and my obvious comfort level with a format Id been working with throughout the campaign, and long before that in Arkansas. I liked direct contact with citizens, and I trusted their unfiltered judgment.
As we headed into the third debate, a CNN/USA Today poll had my lead back to fifteen points, 47 percent to 32 percent for Bush to 15 percent for Perot.
Hillary and I went into Ypsilanti with our crew a day early to prepare for the last debate on the campus of the Michigan State University in East Lansing. As they had for the two previous debates, Bob Barnett and Mike Synar put me through my paces. I knew this would be the roughest ride for me. President Bush was a tough, proud man who was finally fighting hard to hold on to his job. And I was sure that, sooner or later, Perot, too, would turn his fire on me.
More than 90 million people watched the last debate on October 19, the largest audience we had drawn. We were questioned half the time by Jim Lehrer, half the time by a panel of journalists. It was President Bushs best performance. He accused me of being a tax-and-spend liberal, a Jimmy Carter clone, and a waffler who couldnt make up his mind. On the waffling issue I had a pretty good retort: I cant believe hes accused me of taking two sides of an issue. He said trickle-down economics is voodoo economics and now hes its biggest practitioner. When he hit the Arkansas economy, I got to reply that Arkansas had always been a poor state, but in the last year we were first in job creation, fourth in the percentage increase in manufacturing jobs, fourth in the percentage increase in personal income, and fourth in the decline in poverty, with the second-lowest state and local tax burden in the country: The difference between Arkansas and the United States is that were going in the right direction and this countrys going in the wrong direction. I said that, instead of apologizing for signing the deficit-reduction plan with its gas-tax increase, the President should have acknowledged that his error was in saying Read my lips in the first place. Perot took us both on, saying he had grown up five blocks from Arkansas and my experience as governor of such a small state was irrelevant to presidential decision making, and accusing Bush of telling Saddam Hussein that the United States would not respond if he invaded northern Kuwait. We both whacked him back.
The second half of the debate featured questions by the panel of journalists. On the whole, it was more structured and less feisty, a bit like the first debate. However, there were some made-for-TV moments. Helen Thomas of United Press International, the senior White House correspondent, asked me: If you had it to do over again, would you put on the nations uniform? I said I might answer the draft questions better, but I still thought Vietnam was a mistake. I then noted that wed had some pretty good non-veteran Presidents, including FDR, Wilson, and Lincoln, who opposed the Mexican War. When I said Bush had made news in the first debate by saying he would put James Baker in charge of economic policy, but I would make news by putting myself in charge of economic policy, Bush got off a good line: Thats what worries me. The three of us brought the debates to an end with effective closing statements. I thanked the people for watching and caring about the country, and said again that I wasnt interested in attacking anyone personally. I complimented Ross Perot on his campaign and raising the profile of the deficit. And I said of President Bush, I honor his service to our country, I appreciate his efforts, and I wish him well. I just believe its time to change. . . . I know we can do better.
Its hard to say who won the third debate. I did a good job defending Arkansas and my record, and in discussing the issues, but I may have qualified too many of my answers. I had seen enough Presidents who had to change course to want my hands tied later by blanket statements in the debates. With his back against the wall, President Bush did well on everything except his attack on my record in Arkansas; that would work only in an unanswered paid ad, where the voters couldnt hear the facts. He was better at questioning what kind of President I would be, playing into the perception of Democrats as being weak on foreign policy and tax-happy, and reminding people that the last southern Democratic governor to be elected President presided over a period of high interest rates and inflation. Perot was witty and comfortable in his own skin, which I thought would reassure his supporters and perhaps sway some of the undecided voters. Three of the post-debate polls showed me winning the debate, but the CNN/USA Today poll, the only one to show Perot the victor, said 12 percent had changed their preference after the debate, more than half of them going to Perot.
Still, on balance, the debates were good for me. More Americans thought I had the ability to be a good President, and the give-and-take on the issues allowed me a chance to push my positive proposals. I wish we could have done them for two more weeks. Instead, we headed for the homestretch, a frenzied rush to as many states as possible, with the airwaves full of negative ads from my opponents, and a shot against Bush from me featuring his most famous statement: Read my lips. Frank Greer and Mandy Grunwald did a good job with our ads, and our rapid-response team answered theirs effectively, but it wasnt the same as having all the candidates in one room. Now they were coming after me, and I had to hang on.
On October 21, the campaign got a little comic relief when Burkes Peerage, Englands leading genealogical authority, said that President Bush and I were both descendants of thirteenth-century English royalty and were distant cousins, at least twenty times removed. Our common ancestor was King John. Bush was descended through Johns son King Henry III, making him Queen Elizabeths thirteenth cousin. Appropriately, my royal connections were both less impressive and offset by equally strong democratic ties. My Blythe kinfolk were descendants of both Henry IIIs sister Eleanor and her husband, Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, who defeated the king in battle and forced him to accept the most representative parliament up to that time. Alas, in 1265 the king broke his oath to honor the Parliament, a breach that led to the battle of Evesham, in which poor Simon was killed. The spokesman for Burkes Peerage said that Simons body was hacked into a multitude of pieces, bits being sent out around the countrya finger, perhaps, to a village, a foot to a townto show what happened to democrats. Now that I knew that the roots of my differences with the President went back seven hundred years, I suppose I couldnt blame his campaign for being faithful to the tactics of his ancestors. Burkes Peerage also traced the Blythes back to the village of Gotham, which, according to English legend, was a haunt of madmen. I knew I had to be a little crazy to run for President, but I hated to think it was genetic.
On October 23, our campaign got another boost from the high-tech sector when the leaders of more than thirty computer-software companies, including Microsoft executive vice president Steve Ballmer, endorsed me. But it wasnt over. A week after the last debate, a CNN/USA Today poll had my lead over President Bush down to seven points, 39 to 32 percent, with Perot at 20 percent. Just as I had feared, Perots advertising, coupled with President Bushs attacks on me, were moving votes to Perot at my expense. On October 26, while campaigning in North Carolina, Al Gore and I tried to keep the lead by hitting the Bush administration over Iraqgate, the channeling of U.S. governmentbacked credits to Iraq through the Atlanta branch of a bank owned by the Italian government. Ostensibly for agricultural purposes, the credits had been siphoned off by Saddam Hussein to rebuild his military and weapons program after the Iran-Iraq war. Two billion dollars of the credits were never repaid, leaving U.S. taxpayers with the bill. The banker in Atlanta who was indicted for his role in the fraud negotiated a sweetheart plea bargain with the U.S. attorneys office, which, unbelievably, was headed by a Bush appointee who had represented Iraqi interests in the credit flap shortly before his appointment, although he said he had recused himself from this investigation. By the time Al and I mentioned it, the FBI, the CIA, and the Justice Department were all investigating each other for what they had or hadnt done in the affair. It was a real mess, but probably too complicated to affect any voters this late in the campaign.
Perot was still the wild card. On October 29, a Reuters news article began: If President George Bush wins reelection, he will owe a major debt of gratitude to a tough-talking Texas billionaire who dislikes him. The article went on to say that the debates had altered Perots image, allowing him to double his support, mostly at my expense, and taking away the monopoly I had had on the change issue. That days CNN/USA Today poll had my lead down to two points, though five other polls and Stan Greenbergs poll for our campaign had the margin holding at seven to ten points. Whatever the number, the race was still volatile.
During the last week, I campaigned as hard as I could. So did President Bush. On Thursday, at a campaign rally in suburban Michigan, he referred to Al Gore and me as bozos, a comparison to the clown Bozo, who probably found the reference more unflattering than we did. On the Friday before the election, Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh, a Republican from Oklahoma, indicted President Reagans defense secretary, Caspar Weinberger, and five others, with a note in the indictment suggesting that President Bush had played a greater role in and knew more about the illegal sales of arms to Iran authorized by the Reagan White House than he had previously admitted. Whether it would hurt him or not, I didnt know; I was too busy to think about it. The timing was ironic, though, considering the strenuous efforts the administration had made to dig into my passport files and the pressure they had been applying, which we didnt know about at the time, to get the U.S. attorney in Arkansas, a Bush appointee, to implicate me in the investigation of the failure of Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan.
Over the last weekend, Bush directed all his paid media fire at me. And Perot, believing 30 percent of my support was soft and could shift to him at the last minute, finally joined in, big-time. He spent a reported $3 million on thirty-minute television infomercials, trashing Arkansas. He said if I was elected, well all be plucking chickens for a living. The program listed twenty-three areas where Arkansas ranked near the bottom of all states. Apparently, he no longer thought Arkansas was irrelevant. Our team had a big argument about whether to respond. Hillary wanted to go after Perot. I thought we at least had to defend Arkansas. We had done well by never letting any charge go unanswered. Everyone else thought the attacks were too little, too late, and we should just stick with the game plan. Reluctantly, I agreed. My team had been right about the big questions so far, and I was too tired and keyed up to trust my judgment over theirs.
I began the weekend with a morning rally that filled a high school football stadium in Decatur, Georgia, outside Atlanta. Governor Zell Miller, Senator Sam Nunn, Congressman John Lewis, and other Democrats who had stuck with me all the way were there. But the big draw was Hank Aaron, the baseball star who had broken Babe Ruths home-run record in 1974. Aaron was a genuine local hero, not only for his baseball exploits but also for his work on behalf of poor children after he laid down his bat. There were 25,000 people at the Georgia rally. Three days later, I would carry Georgia by just 13,000 votes. From then on, Hank Aaron loved to kid me that he had personally delivered Georgias electoral votes with his Saturday-morning plug. He may have been right.
After Georgia, I campaigned in Davenport, Iowa, then flew to Milwaukee, where I did my last televised town hall meeting and cut my last television spot, urging people to vote, and vote for change. On Sunday night, after campaign stops in Cincinnati and Scranton, the Rodhams hometown, we flew to New Jersey for a big rally at the Meadowlands, a musical extravaganza featuring rock, jazz, and country musicians and movie stars who were supporting me. Then I played sax and danced with Hillary before 15,000 people at the Garden State Park racetrack in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, where a horse named Bubba Clinton, the name my brother had called me by since he was a toddler, had recently won a race at 17-to-1 odds. My odds were better now, but they had once been far longer. One man who bet 100 pounds on me in April with a London bookmaker when the odds were 33 to 1 made about $5,000. Theres no telling what he could have made if hed placed the bet in early February when I was being battered in New Hampshire.
Hillary and I woke up Monday morning in Philadelphia, the birthplace of our democracy, and the first leg of a four thousandmile, eight-state, round-the-clock campaign swing. While Al and Tipper Gore campaigned in other battleground states, three Boeing 727s, decorated in red, white, and blue, took Hillary, me, our staff, and a horde of media on the twenty-nine-hour jaunt. At Philadelphias Mayfair Diner, the first stop, when a man asked me what would be the first thing I would do if elected, I replied, Im going to thank God. On to Cleveland. With my voice failing again, I said, Teddy Roosevelt once said we should speak softly and carry a big stick. Tomorrow, I want to talk softly and carry Ohio. At an airport rally outside Detroit, flanked by several of Michigans elected officials and union leaders who had worked so hard for me, I croaked, If you will be my voice tomorrow, I will be your voice for four years. After stops in St. Louis and Paducah, Kentucky, we flew to Texas for two visits. The first was in McAllen, deep in South Texas near the Mexican border where I had been stranded with Sargent Shriver twenty years earlier. It was after midnight when we got to Fort Worth, where the crowd was kept awake by the famous country-rocker Jerry Jeff Walker. When I got back to the plane, I learned that my staff had bought four hundred dollars worth of mango ice cream from the Menger Hotel in San Antonio, just across the street from the Alamo. They had all heard me say how much I loved that ice cream, which I had discovered when working in the McGovern campaign in 1972. There was enough of it to feed the three planeloads of weary travelers all night.
Meanwhile, back at headquarters in Little Rock, James Carville had gathered our people, more than a hundred of them, for a last meeting. After George Stephanopoulos introduced him, James gave an emotional speech, saying that love and work were the two most precious gifts a person could give, and thanking all our people, most of them very young, for those gifts.
We flew from Texas to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for a very early-morning rally with my old friend Governor Bruce King. Afterward, at about 4 a.m., I devoured a breakfast of Mexican food, then headed for Denver, the last stop. We had a big, enthusiastic early-morning crowd. After Mayor Wellington Webb, Senator Tim Wirth, and my partner in education reform Governor Roy Roemer fired them up, Hillary gave the speech and I forced my last campaign words of gratitude and hope through swollen vocal cords. Then it was home to Little Rock.
Hillary and I were greeted at the airport by Chelsea, other family members, friends, and our headquarters staff. I thanked them for all theyd done, then left with my family for the drive to our polling place, the Dunbar Community Center, which is in a mostly African-American neighborhood less than a mile from the Governors Mansion. We spoke to the folks gathered around the center and signed in with the election officials there. Then, just as she had done since she was six, Chelsea went into the voting booth with me. After I closed the curtain, Chelsea pulled down the lever by my name, then hugged me tight. After thirteen months of backbreaking effort, it was all that was left for us to do. When Hillary finished voting, the three of us embraced, went outside, answered a few press questions, shook a few hands, and went home.
For me, election days have always embodied the great mystery of democracy. No matter how hard pollsters and pundits try to demystify it, the mystery remains. Its the one day when the ordinary citizen has as much power as the millionaire and the President. Some people use it and some dont. Those who do choose candidates for all kinds of reasons, some rational, some intuitive, some with certainty, others skeptically. Somehow, they usually pick the right leader for the times; thats why America is still around and doing well after more than 228 years.
I had entered the race largely because I thought I was right for these times of dramatic change in how Americans live, work, raise children, and relate to the rest of the world. I had worked for years to understand how political leaders decisions play out in peoples lives. I believed I understood what needed to be done and how to do it. But I also knew I was asking the American people to take a big gamble. First, they werent used to Democratic Presidents. Then there were the questions about me: I was very young; was the governor of a state most Americans knew little about; had opposed the Vietnam War and avoided military service; held liberal views on race and rights for women and gays; often seemed slick when I spoke of achieving ambitious goals that, at least on the surface, seemed mutually exclusive; and had lived a far from perfect life. I had worked my heart out to convince the American people that I was a risk worth taking, but the constantly shifting polls and the resurgence of Perot showed that many of them wanted to believe in me but still harbored doubts. On the stump, Al Gore asked voters to think about what headline they wanted to read the day after the election: Four More Years, or Change Is on the Way. I thought I knew what their answer would be, but on that long November day, like everyone else, I had to wait to find out.
When we got home, the three of us watched an old John Wayne movie until we dozed off for a couple of hours. In the afternoon, I went jogging with Chelsea downtown and stopped at McDonalds for a cup of water, as I had countless times before. After I got back to the Governors Mansion, I didnt have to wait much longer. The returns started to come in early, at about 6:30 p.m. I was still in my jogging clothes when I was projected the winner in several states in the East. A little over three hours later, the networks projected me the overall winner, when Ohio went our way by 90,000 votes out of almost 5 million cast, a victory margin of less than 2 percent. It seemed fitting, because Ohio had been one of the states to guarantee me the nomination in the June 2 primaries, and the state whose votes had officially put me over the top at our convention in New York. The turnout was huge, the highest since the early 1960s, with more than 100 million people voting.
When all 104,600,366 votes were counted, the final margin of victory was about 5.5 percent. I finished with 43 percent of the vote, to 37.4 percent for President Bush and 19 percent for Ross Perot, the best showing for a third-party candidate since Teddy Roosevelt garnered 27 percent with his Bull Moose Party in 1912. Our baby-boom ticket did best among voters over sixty-five and those under thirty. Our own generation apparently had more doubts about whether we were ready to lead the country. The late Bush-Perot tag-team attack on Arkansas had shaved two or three points off our high-water mark a few days before the election. It had hurt, but not badly enough.
The victory margin in the electoral college was larger. President Bush won eighteen states with 168 electoral votes. I received 370 electoral votes from thirty-two states and the District of Columbia, including every state that borders the Mississippi River from north to south except Mississippi, and all the New England and mid-Atlantic states. I also won in some unlikely places, like Georgia, Montana, Nevada, and Colorado. Eleven states were decided by 3 percent or less: Arizona, Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina went for the President; besides Ohio, Georgia, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and New Jersey voted narrowly for me. I received 53 percent of the vote in Arkansas, my highest total, and won twelve other states by 10 percent or more, including some large ones: California, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York. While Perot kept me from getting a majority of the popular vote, his presence on the ballot almost certainly added to my margin in the electoral college.
How did Americans come to choose their first baby-boom President, the third youngest in history, only the second governor of a small state, carrying more baggage than an ocean liner? Surveys of voters leaving the polls indicated that the economy was by far the biggest issue for them, followed by the deficit and health care, with the character issue trailing. In the end, I had won the debate over what the election was about. In a presidential campaign, that is more important than whether the voters agree with a candidate on specific issues. But the economy alone didnt do it. I was also helped by James Carville and a brilliant campaign team who kept me and everyone else focused and on message through all the ups and downs; by Stan Greenbergs insightful polling and Frank Greers effective paid media; by able people who led the campaign at the grass roots; by a Democratic Party united by Ron Browns skill and the desire to win after a dozen years in the wilderness; by extraordinarily high levels of support from minorities and women, who also elected a Congress with six female senators and forty-seven female members of the House, up from twenty-eight; by the initial disunity and overconfidence among the Republicans; by surprisingly positive press coverage in the general election, in stark contrast to the going-over I got in the primaries; by the extraordinary performance of Al and Tipper Gore in the campaign, and the generational change we all represented; and by the New Democrat philosophy and ideas I had developed in Arkansas and with the DLC. Finally, I was able to win because Hillary and my friends stayed with me through the fire, and because I didnt give up when I got beat up.
Early on election night, President Bush called to congratulate me. He was gracious and pledged a smooth transition, as did Dan Quayle. After a last look at my victory speech, Hillary and I said a prayer thanking God for our blessings and asking for divine guidance in the work ahead. Then we got Chelsea and drove down to the Old State House for the big event.
The Old State House was my favorite building in Arkansas, full of my states history and my own. It was the place where I had received well-wishers when I was sworn in as attorney general sixteen years earlier, and where I had announced for President thirteen months ago. We walked onto the stage to greet Al and Tipper and the thousands of people who had filled the downtown streets. I was overwhelmed when I looked out into the faces of all those people, so full of happiness and hope. And I was filled with gratitude. I loved seeing my mothers tears of joy, and I hoped that my father was looking down on me with pride.
When I started this remarkable odyssey, I could never have anticipated how hard it would be, or how wonderful. The people in the crowd and millions like them had done their part. Now I had to prove them right. I began by saying, On this day, with high hopes and brave hearts, in massive numbers, the American people have voted to make a new beginning. I asked those who had voted for President Bush and Ross Perot to join me in creating a re-United States, then closed with these words:
This victory was more than a victory of party; it was a victory for those who work hard and play by the rules, a victory for people who felt left out and left behind and want to do better. . . . I accept tonight the responsibility that you have given me to be the leader of this, the greatest country in human history. I accept it with a full heart and a joyous spirit. But I ask you to be Americans again, too, to be interested not just in getting but in giving, not just in placing blame but in assuming responsibility, not just in looking out for yourselves but in looking out for others, too. . . . Together, we can make the country that we love everything it was meant to be.