Ark. throws giant party for Clinton Throngs descend on Little Rock to fete 'nice man'

November 04, 1992|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Staff Writer Staff writer Dan Fesperman contributed to this article.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Returning to the site where he had announced his candidacy exactly 13 months before, Gov. Bill Clinton declared that his election victory marked a vote for a "new beginning" and a "clarion call for our country to face" future challenges.

He accepted President Bush's telephoned congratulations and urged the crowd to applaud the "grace" of his concession and his "lifetime of public service."

Mr. Clinton said he would reach out to Republicans and independents, including Ross Perot, and called for unity.

"My fellow Americans," he began, standing in the cold outside the old Capitol in downtown Little Rock before a crowd estimated at 40,000, "on this day, with high hopes and brave hearts, in massive numbers the American people have voted to make a new beginning.

"This election is a clarion call for our country to face the challenge of the end of the cold war and the beginning of the next century, to restore growth to our country and opportunity to our people, to empower our people so they can face problems too long ignored, from AIDS to the environment, to conversion from a defense to an economic giant.

"And, perhaps most important of all, to bring our people together as never before, so our diversity can be a source of strength in a world that is ever smaller, where everyone counts and everyone is a member of America's family."

After his address, Mr. Clinton's running mate, Tennessee Sen. Al Gore, emphasized the generational change of leadership, calling his generation "the children of modern America, with the exuberance and optimism which so often characterizes a generation of younger leaders."

He also emphasized that he and Mr. Clinton were the first presidential-vice presidential team from the South.

Thousands of people standing elbow-to-elbow in the street cheered lustily and waved flags and Clinton campaign posters.

They had waited for hours to get a view of the next president of the United States, and as he approached, they joined a choir in singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "America the Beautiful."

Mr. Clinton's half-brother, Roger, and Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder were among the notables occupying a VIP section. But James Carville, the strategist whose deft sense of the public pulse helped guide the Arkansas governor to victory, waited for Mr. Clinton's arrival in the crowd of

ordinary people.

Mr. Clinton, arriving with his wife, Hillary, and daughter, Chelsea, blew a kiss to the crowd, then waved. The Clintons were quickly joined onstage by the man the public address announcer identified as the "next vice president," Mr. Gore, who came with his wife, Tipper, and their children.

The biggest party in Arkansas history choked the streets of downtown Little Rock as thousands of people from many states celebrated in the name of Mr. Clinton, a native son.

The governor, who boasted of having created jobs during his years in office, would have been proud to see the local economy pumped up by record occupancy rates in hotels and entrepreneurs selling an imaginative range of souvenirs.

For $3 you could buy a Clinton-Gore bar of soap, for $15 a locally designed T-shirt likening Hillary Clinton, Mr. Clinton's wife, to great women from the past: Golda Meir of Israel, Indira Gandhi of India and Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President

Franklin D. Roosevelt.

All of the activity was jammed into several blocks near Mr. Clinton's campaign headquarters and the old Capitol, a columned monument to the past where Mr. Clinton spoke last night following the closing of polls nationwide.

Many people, bundled against the wind-whipped rain and falling temperatures, watched election night unfold on a large television screen erected over Markham Street.

When a network commentator started rattling off states Mr. Clinton was projected to win, the crowd took up the fighting chant of the University of Arkansas Razorbacks, yelling, "Woooo pig soooeee!"

Taking it all in with a camera and bewildered faces were three members of a Tokyo television crew, faced with explaining the appeal of a razorback hog to their Japanese viewers.

Wallace's Grill, a little down-home restaurant where Mr. Clinton sometimes eats breakfast, stayed open late, serving juicy cheeseburgers and soft drinks to an endless pro

cession of diners.

"He's a very nice man," said George Hronas, the grill's owner, recalling Mr. Clinton's visits and his usual order: eggs over and sausage.

Mr. Clinton sometimes lingered for two hours without attracting much notice in a small state where governors are expected to mix with people and be called by their first names. He kept up the tradition of mingling with people last night by jogging in the rain in Little Rock, stopping at a McDonald's on Main Street to greet well-wishers.

Not surprisingly, many of the people partying last night said they knew their governor personally.

"I worked for Bill in his first campaign for governor," said Jo Speak, who now lives in Memphis, Tenn., but returned to Arkansas to celebrate the election.

"It's the most exciting thing since John Kennedy," she said. "I just can't take it. We've finally passed the torch."

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