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The Clinton corps.

Some Arkansas Business Leaders Go A Long Way To Help The Governor In His Suddenly Troubled Presidential Campaign

The latest winter vacation rage among Arkansas business leaders?

How about an excursion to Manchester, N.H.?

Stay at the luxurious Super 8 Lodge.

Eat breakfast at Dunkin' Donuts and lunch at McDonald's.

Go to Kirk's, a family restaurant, for dinner.

Walk door to door in subfreezing temperatures to tell the locals good things about Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton.

Of course, this vacation package has a limited clientele -- Arkansas Democrats who support Clinton's presidential bid.

Even they sometimes question the sanity of campaigning in New Hampshire.

"The first day we went door to door, it was snowing and we were thinking, 'What are we doing?'" says Sheila Galbraith Bronfman of Little Rock, coordinator for Clinton's so-called Arkansas Travelers.

Most of Bronfman's travel expenses are paid by the Clinton campaign. The rest of the "Arkansas Travelers" -- people such as state Sen. Jay Bradford of Pine Bluff, attorney Woody Bassett of Fayetteville and J.T. Rose, owner of Rose Care Inc. at Rogers -- pay their own way.

Others such as Bill Kennedy of Little Rock's Rose Law Firm work closer to home, raising funds on the telephone for the Clinton campaign.

The cost of being an "Arkansas Traveler" runs $500 or more for a week. That includes air fare, a $40-per-night stay at the budget motel and lots of fast food.

But, for most of these Arkansas business people, the primary cost is time.

They're not raising money.

They're getting the word out.

Bradford, chairman and chief executive officer of First Arkansas Insurance, spent five days in January canvassing New Hampshire.

"People there are open-minded," Bradford says. "They're accustomed to this happening every four years."

Arkansans have been traveling to New Hampshire in groups of 10 to 20 since early January, attempting to influence some of the state's 160,000 registered Democratic voters.

New Hampshire is the site of the first presidential primary Tuesday. At last count, 62 Democratic and Republican candidates were on the ballot.

The Mills Campaign

Such cross-country campaign junkets are not unusual.

In 1976, the "Peanut Brigade" campaigned for Georgia peanut farmer Jimmy Carter.

In 1972, a handful of campaign workers from Arkansas journeyed to New Hampshire to get the word out on Rep. Wilbur Mills, D-Ark. Mills, who served in the House through 1976, was virtually drafted to run for president. The chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee pulled out of the race well before the Democratic National Convention.

In early February of that year, about 10 Mills supporters worked snowy New Hampshire. One of those was Anne Pride, a former press secretary to Sen. David Pryor, D-Ark., and at the time a member of Arkansas Democratic Rep. Bill Alexander's staff.

"I had no boots, wore flat pumps and had snow up to my knees," says Pride, now a Washington lobbyist for Arkansas Power & Light Co. "We did everything from American Legion groups to high schools ... It was interesting campaigning because Wilbur Mills had never been in the state. He was running a write-in campaign."

Also campaigning for Mills 20 years ago was George Jernigan, a Little Rock attorney and chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party.

Mills' skeleton crew toted a projector and a 30-minute film on their candidate from house to house. They asked residents if they had the time and inclination to sit through the film.

Some agreed.

"We must have seemed like the most boring people in the world, showing that film in people's homes," Jernigan says.

During his most recent trip to New Hampshire, Jernigan stumbled upon a bit of Mills trivia at a chamber of commerce dinner in Manchester. The chamber features a historic gallery of the state's presidential primary results. Jernigan found the 1972 results. Sen. Edmund Muskie of Maine won the Democratic primary with 48 percent of the vote. Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota, the eventual Democratic nominee, was second. Mills finished fourth out of 16 candidates.

"He ran a good race, especially for a candidate who never made it to the state," Jernigan says. "...The voters there like to see the candidates in the flesh."

During his one-week stay in New Hampshire last month, Jernigan noticed a major difference between the Mills and Clinton campaigns.

"In 1972, folks had never heard of Mills and did not know where Arkansas was," Jernigan says. "They've heard of Clinton, but some still don't know where Arkansas is."

Hard Work

The work is not glamorous. There are no black-tie, $500-per-person fund-raising events. It's largely door-to-door campaigning in the New England cold.

The volunteers are identified by buttons that say "I'm An Arkansas Traveler ... Bill Clinton For President."

They travel the state in rented vans, knocking on doors and handing out leaflets.

One New Hampshire resident told the Arkansans, "He's either very, very good or you are crazy."

For the most part, the "Arkansas Travelers" have found New Hampshire voters well-informed, inquisitive and angry.

The recession has hit New England hard. During the past three years, more than 50,000 New Hampshire residents have lost their jobs. Door-to-door campaigners find many people home during the middle of the day. They have no job to go to.

Elm Street, which bisects downtown Manchester, is littered with empty storefronts. In fact, the Clinton campaign found an office at a reasonable rate downtown.

"There is resentment because the economy is in a free-fall," Bradford says. "They have no state income tax, but the property taxes on homes and automobiles are extremely high. People are losing their homes. We haven't seen that in our economy."

One resident was mistaken for a member of the national media at a recent Clinton speech. She was taking notes.

"They are independent, sophisticated voters who are used to being courted every four years," Bassett says. "...Those people are very, very interested in the issues."

Economy Boosters

Bassett spent a week in New Hampshire. The first day he was there, Bassett was a guest on a radio call-in show, spoke to law students in Concord and even attended a high school basketball game to promote Clinton.

He says a corps of knowledgeable voters is not the only thing that distinguishes New Hampshire.

"When asking for directions in New Hampshire, you tend to be told that the reference point is Dunkin' Donuts," Bassett says. "They're all over New Hampshire. People say, 'Go to the Dunkin' Donuts and turn left' or 'If you've gone past the Dunkin' Donuts, you've gone too far.'"

Those Dunkin' Donut shops are packed as the primary nears. Hotel rooms are booked. For an area in need of some good economic news, the quadrennial invasion is an economic boon.

Just how much out-of-town money has been imported is anyone's guess, according to Tim Fortier, governmental affairs manager for the New Hampshire Hospitality Association.

"We have no quantifiable figure," Fortier says. "From the anecdotal evidence, the impact of this presidential primary is not as great as previous primaries."

Still, it is bringing in money that would not be coming to New Hampshire otherwise.

"We're getting a lot of calls because the hotels are booked," says a staffer at the Manchester Chamber of Commerce. "People want to know where to stay."

Bronfman left Arkansas Feb. 4 to meet a new wave of "Arkansas Travelers" who were due in New Hampshire last week. About 80 people were to fly in from Arkansas. Another 50 planned to travel from Washington, D.C.

Among those planning to head north were Paul H. "Rocky" Wilmuth, owner of General Oil Co. of Batesville; Dr. Morris Henry of Fayetteville; Allen Bird II, an attorney with the Rose Law Firm; Bob Compton, an El Dorado attorney; Ark Monroe III, an attorney with the Little Rock law firm Mitchell Williams Selig Gates & Woodyard; and George Fisher, a former editorial cartoonist at the Arkansas Gazette and CEO of Ad Image Inc. of Little Rock.

"I might do a little dog-and-pony show," Fisher says, referring to his "chalk talks" during which he sketches a cartoon while bantering with the audience.

Prior to heading north, Fisher did work for the Clinton campaign in Little Rock. He drew a caricature of the governor to be reprinted on T-shirts and sweat shirts. About 100 of the shirts will go to New Hampshire.

"The cartoon is a far cry from what I did in the newspaper," Fisher says. "This is a positive thing for Clinton. At the newspaper, I always tried to be objective."

Now, Fisher is an "Arkansas Traveler."

Is the concept working as the Clinton campaign tries desperately to regain the momentum it has lost during the past three weeks?

Are the "Arkansas Travelers" getting their points across as negative media coverage of Clinton intensifies?

The Arkansans say they are despite polls that indicate Clinton has fallen into a tie with former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas after leading by 13 percentage points less than a month ago.

One thing is certain -- come Tuesday, the New Hampshire vacation jaunts will cease.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Governor Bill Clinton's presidential campaign
Author:Webb, Kane
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Feb 17, 1992
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