Arkansas misses Bill Clinton as he campaigns for Obama

November 5, 2012

Arkansas seems like the most boring state in the country right now.

2012 is so vastly different from various other years. For decades, a political junkie here always had a healthy dose of Bill Clinton and Mike Huckabee.

Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama campaign in Virginia. (Associated Press)

We have to catch glimpses of our native son on television giving rousing speeches – and losing his voice – in support of President Obama. On Saturday night in Virginia, Clinton gave a lengthy speech before introducing Obama at a rally. After the campaign event, Clinton joined the president on stage with Clinton’s 1992 campaign anthem “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” blaring over the loud speakers.

Arkansas is not a swing state, with its measly six electoral votes, but it’s amazing how unimportant the place has become to national politicians in a mere few years.

Four years ago, Arkansans were immersed in the middle of the Hillary Clinton primary against Obama. Meanwhile, Huckabee, the state’s former governor, was also giving John McCain a run for his money.

Obama hasn’t visited Clintonland since 2006 when as a U.S. senator he campaigned for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Beebe. In 2010, Michelle Obama gave a commencement speech at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. But since then, national Democrats have been far and few between visiting the Natural State.

Then again, so have Republicans.

Mitt Romney popped into Arkansas earlier this year for a private high dollar fundraiser. He took the money and ran without meeting voters or reporters. Mike Huckabee attended a Republican fundraiser last Saturday in Little Rock but the focus was on state legislative races. That’s because the Arkansas GOP has a very good chance of taking control of both chambers of the legislature for the first time in 138 years, and the Koch brothers have invested heavily in Arkansas for this to happen.

Back in 2004, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) made a campaign appearance in Little Rock, and Bill Clinton appeared the weekend before Election Day for a get-out-the-vote event. John and Elizabeth Edwards visited Arkansas several times, too. Even before Kerry became the Democratic nominee, Arkansas was psyched to have home state candidate General Wesley Clark running in the Democratic primary.

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney didn’t ignore Arkansas either. They made numerous appearances in 2004 and 2000. So did Al Gore, who could have easily ignored it because part of his campaign strategy was to distance himself from Clinton. Gore even appeared in a stuffy American Legion Hut, giving a speech under a sparkly disco ball while John Mellencamp songs blasted.

Even in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan visited Arkansas twice. Jimmy Carter did, too, in 1975 and 1980. John F. Kennedy visited four times. Other presidents — Harry Truman, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Benjamin Harris — also came to Arkansas. And as far back as 1841, Zachary Taylor visited the western part of the state.

Arkansans don’t even have hotly contested congressional races this year. For the first time in decades, all four congressional seats are likely to swing Republican. No one seems terribly excited or worried about this.

The only issue anyone is discussing – and discussing is putting it strongly – is a ballot initiative that would make medical marijuana legal. Arkansas would be the first state in the South to legalize the drug for medicinal purposes. Polls show that the measure is likely to fail, but it may be the one issue that gets people to the polls on Tuesday. Candidates certainly won’t.

Clinton hasn’t forgotten his state completely as he criss-crosses the country for Obama. He has cut a radio ad for the Arkansas Black Political Caucus that supports Democratic candidates. He also condemns the pro-slavery writings and racist leanings of three GOP candidates. On Monday, Clinton also endorsed an old Dem friend, Herb Rule, who is running for Congress against Republican incumbent Tim Griffin.

But most Arkansans are gearing up for 2016. They hope Hillary Clinton will run for president or even that Huckabee may give it another shot. Arkansans are hungry for attention. But they just may have to wait until Chelsea Clinton turns 35 and makes a bid for the White House. 

Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt.” Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker

 

 

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