Office, not policies, draws crowd at Warrenton, Va.

IN VA.'S GOP COUNTRY, CLINTON ENCOUNTERS A 'CURIOUS' CROWD

January 18, 1993|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Staff Writer

WARRENTON, Va. -- When Bill Clinton's bus caravan pulled up here yesterday for an "unscheduled" stop that had been planned for three weeks, the notoriously late and habitually wordy president-elect was on time and brief in his remarks.

Mr. Clinton's plunge into the crowd for personal greetings was but a pale reminder of the candidate who couldn't leave a hand unshook. Hopes that he would venture down Main Street, where Beth Mooney had taken great pains to put a picture of his wife, Hillary, on the face of a mannequin in the window of her dress shop, were --ed when entourage departed within a half-hour.

"We'll do our best to never forget who put us in the White House: people like you along the roads of America," Mr. Clinton promised the several thousand citizens who waited four hours in the cold for their glimpse of history.

But the presidency has already dramatically changed the spontaneous character of the famous Clinton bus trips that made him feel so close to the grass roots.

In this tiny, 200-year-old town with its antique stores and boutiques smack in the middle of Republican horse country, Mr. Clinton also encountered an audience more subdued than the passionate Democrats who swooned by the roadside for him last summer and fall.

Many came to see him not because they believe in his policies and politics, but because in two days he will become part of history.

"I'm here because I'm curious," said Milton Hardesty, 54, who manages the local office of Long & Foster realty.

He said he didn't vote for Mr. Clinton, "but he's going to be president for the next four years, and we are all going to have to work together."

Indeed, Madge Poole, a 72-year-old Democratic precinct captain, claimed the place was packed with "elitist Republicans and Reagan Democrats."

She blamed them for the fact that she got no VIP treatment even though her precinct of Leeds was the only one Mr. Clinton carried in the region.

Virginia went solidly for President Bush.

"Around here, they call us the 'People's Republic of Leeds,' that's how elitist they are," Ms. Poole said.

Yet, a president is a president, and "party makes no difference" when a town of 6,000 gets to welcome to such a celebrity, says Republican Mayor J. Willard Lineweaver.

Despite a week of intense preparation, the mayor had been told the Clinton bus, with its license tag "Hope 1," might have to bypass Warrenton entirely if the president-to-be was behind schedule for Washington events that his aides called "time-critical."

"Thank goodness things worked out," Mayor Lineweaver said after it was over. Nonetheless, he was required to introduce the traveling team of Bill Clinton, Al Gore and their spouses when the buses were still three miles out of town so there'd be no delay when they got there.

It may have been just as well that Mr. Clinton didn't stay long.

Although he claimed to have visited Warrenton several times during his college days at Georgetown, Mr. Clinton confused the town's most precious landmark, the 200-year-old Old Court House, with the First Baptist Church.

He also avoided any political remarks that could have fueled Ross Perot's supporters, who turned out to heckle him for backing away from his campaign promises, including a middle-class tax cut and halving the deficit.

"Slick Willie's School of Dance, learning the art of side-stepping," read one of the placards carried by John and Vickie Andrews of Warrenton.

The other, Vickie Andrew's favorite, reminded Mr. Clinton, "A man is only as good as his word."

Warrenton won a place on Mr. Clinton's itinerary largely through the efforts of state Del. Jerry Wood, a Democrat who represents the town in the Virginia General Assembly.

And there were many true believers who felt that his visit was a dream come true.

"I got a chance to shake hands with him, and he's so warm and personable," said Ms. Mooney, who was serving Bloody Marys at her dress shop, the Clothes Horse, where Ms. Clinton's beaded black coat was the fashion talk of the day. "We're doing everything we can to promote this."

Norma McAchren, 54, a courthouse employee and lifelong Democrat, said, "We are just so thrilled to have a Democratic president for a change. I hope he doesn't disappoint us."

There were also plenty of Republicans who decided in November that things were so bad, Mr. Clinton deserved a chance.

"He's the first president of my age," said Mike O'Bryant, 48, a former teacher who works in construction to make more money. "I've got a lot of hope for him; things have been a little down."

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