Longest-Serving Governor Staking Claim for White House With PM-Clinton-President Bjt
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ Bill Clinton bounded into college orientation at Georgetown University as a lanky, self-assured Southerner whose drawl tickled the ears of his classmates. From the first day, he was looking for votes.
″Clinton has never had any self-doubt,″ recalls Tommy Campbell, a roommate who helped get him elected freshman class president. ″He was actually no different than he is today.″
By the time Clinton returned to his Arkansas roots in 1973, he was a Rhodes Scholar and lawyer soon to become the nation’s youngest sitting governor in 1979 at age 32. Now he’s the nation’s longest-serving governor and he’s ready to stake a claim for the White House.
Clinton, 45, sounds a centrist message designed to bring middle-class Americans back to the Democratic Party. His agenda is both liberal and conservative - government should do more to help the poor, but the same people should be required to work and further their education, he says.
″You cannot expect the community to be responsible for people who will not behave responsibly,″ he says.
Clinton, who formally announced his presidential candidacy today, is known as a hard-working, near-teetotaler consumed with his political career. Still, he makes time to attend his daughter Chelsea’s softball games and parent- teacher conferences. He helps the 11-year-old with her homework.
It was concern about his family that pulled Clinton back from the brink of running for president four years ago.
″I think there are worse things than going to your grave knowing that you lived to put your child first,″ he said then. But he also told supporters: ″For what it’s worth, I’d still like to be president.″
The governor of one of the nation’s poorest states, Clinton himself comes from a humble background. His father died before he was born, and he was raised for a time by his grandparents, who ran a pay-as-you-can grocery store in the black section of Hope in southwestern Arkansas.
″Sometimes I wake up in the morning just amazed at how well my life has turned out,″ Clinton says. ″I mean, my father died when he was 29. All this is gravy to me.″
Clinton’s faults, according to acquaintances and critics, include indecisiveness, problems with keeping or remembering promises and an occasional flash of temper.
He once vetoed a bill, then dispatched a state trooper after-hours to a government office to retrieve it. Clinton then scratched through his veto and approved the bill.
Detractors lately have been reminding Clinton that he promised just a year ago that he would not seek higher office if re-elected to a fifth term as governor.
He justifies the reversal by saying that running for president ″is a better thing for both the people of Arkansas and for me.″
But critics say he is overly ambitious.
″All he’s ever wanted to be is president,″ said Sheffield Nelson, Clinton’s Republican opponent in the 1990 gubernatorial election. ″That’s the only reason he ran last year. That’s the only reason he does anything.″
Clinton has been seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party for years, even decades, some note wryly. As chairman of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, he worked to pull the party back toward the center. But his political path has not been without obstacles.
After just one term as governor, Clinton was bounced from office in 1980. He returned in 1982 to run a string of successful gubernatorial races after apologizing for the arrogance of his first term.
He made perhaps his biggest splash nationally with an embarrassingly boring speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. But that led to an appearance on the ″Tonight Show″ in which he salvaged his image by good- naturedly poking fun at his performance and playing along with the show’s orchestra on his saxophone.
Since last year’s gubernatorial election, Clinton has been dogged by rumors about marital infidelity. The governor has refused to give details about his personal life, but he and his wife, Hillary, a Little Rock attorney, met with national reporters last month in Washington to dispel what he called ″ridiculous rumors″ about their marriage.
As governor, Clinton has made education a top priority and implemented reforms that have helped cut the dropout rate and increase the share of students going on to college. But the state still lags behind the nation in test scores, teacher salaries and per-pupil spending.
When Clinton himself was in school, he showed himself to be an intelligent, outgoing teen-ager who played sax in the band and participated in sports, but not very well.
Always competitive, Clinton decided against a music career when he realized that he couldn’t be the best.
″When they had fund-raisers for the band, he would rather clean up the band room than sell the candy bars,″ said his mother, Virginia Kelly. ″I always thought that was because he was afraid he wouldn’t sell the most candy.″