HISTORIANS will note that Bill Clinton made his first run...

salmagundi

February 09, 1993

HISTORIANS will note that Bill Clinton made his first run for office in a losing campaign for Congress. The year was 1974. The opponent was incumbent Republican John Paul Hammerschmidt from Arkansas' 3rd District.

In the "Almanac of American Politics 1976" that area is described as "a region of green hills rising to mountains, of historic poverty, but recent prosperity." Mr. Hammerschmidt, a service-oriented congressman, had won easily since 1966.

"But in 1974," the almanac said, "he faced a different kind of opponent: 28-year-old Bill Clinton, a law professor at the University of Arkansas, and a veteran (though he didn't mention it much) organizer in the McGovern campaign [for president in 1972]. Clinton waged an energetic campaign, and his personality was at least as engaging as Hammerschmidt's. He also attacked the congressman sharply on various issues, particularly in the economic area, and charged that he was working more for business interests than for ordinary people. It turned out to be a close race indeed, with Hammerschmidt squeaking to the narrowest victory of his career with only 52 percent of the vote. . . It was, of course, a Democratic year in Arkansas like everywhere else, and it is not at all apparent that Hammerschmidt will be beatable in 1976. Nevertheless, observers of the Arkansas political scene predict a long career ahead for Clinton, whether he runs for Congress again or for some other office."

Sure enough, two years later, Clinton did run for attorney general and he won. Now he's president, which fulfills the almanac's prediction. As for Hammerschmidt, he retired this year after 13 terms in Congress. His only close race was that time he beat Bill Clinton by less than 6,300 votes.

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