CLINTON NOTEBOOK: Near-perfect approval, reporters seeking autographs
May. 08, 1997
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) _ Basking in adoring crowds and a near-perfect approval rating, President Clinton may never want to come home.
Clinton, here for a summit with Central American leaders, awoke in San Jose Thursday to reports in the local press of a Gallup poll giving him a 92-percent favorable rating among Costa Ricans. His numbers back home aren't nearly so good: the last USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll in April put Clinton's approval rating among Americans at 54 percent.
Fans outside San Jose's National Theater, which housed the day's events, hoisted outdated ``Clinton-Gore'' campaign placards and shouted ``God bless you, Bill!''
Not all of Gallup's Costa Rican data smiled upon Clinton.
When the 300 San Jose-area residents who were surveyed were asked what Clinton's visit would leave that country, the most popular response _ of 25 percent of respondents _ was ``unnecessary expenses.''
``It's a show,'' said Dr. Jaime Zomer, 48, who was leaving a conference on skin cancer at a building along the roped-off motorcade route. ``The country gains nothing from this. ... It stops the production of the country for two days.''
Inside the elaborate National Theater, where Clinton and his Central American counterparts held a news conference, the U.S. president was treated like a rock star.
After the question-and-answer session, reporters from the Spanish-speaking side of the audience encircled Clinton, thrusting papers and pens at him.
They wanted autographs.
``I'm married to an American. ... He's from Chicago. I got it for him,'' Dixie Mendoza, of the Costa Rican newspaper La Nacion, explained in a rush of giggles.
Clinton, grasping his black crutches, signed about 20 autographs while aides tried to shoo away the fawning reporters _ none of them Americans.
Clinton was experiencing back pain and not getting much sleep on his Latin American tour. The weariness showed at Thursday's news conference.
A reporter from Spanish-speaking side started asking a question in Spanish but finished in English. Clinton, who had been listening to translation through an earpiece, was confused when the translator abruptly switched into Spanish.
With a sheepish grin, Clinton held up his earpiece, asked the reporter to repeat her question and rolled his eyes. ``It's been a long day,'' he sighed.
The president looked tired and aides said a bout with back spasms hasn't helped his endurance. He has undergone ultrasound treatment, a form of deep massage to help work out the kinks.
Costa Ricans don't have an army, but they handle the press corps with military precision _ and discipline. At a picture-taking session with Clinton and his Central American counterparts, American reporters who would normally seize such a time for shouting questions were neatly arranged behind a heavy curtain.
At the appointed time, the curtain was raised and the cameras allowed their shots. Minutes later, the curtain fell _ photo-op finished, not a single question uttered.