It was more a victory sprint than victory lap today, as President Clinton dashed to this Mississippi River town to underscore a few highlights of Thursday night's State of the Union address and to bask in the type of unqualified adoration he rarely gets in Washington.

Many hundreds of residents endured bitingly cold winds to greet the president with handmade signs and American flags at Quincy's small airport and along its tree-lined streets.

Thousands more huddled together for his speech in downtown's Washington Park, where the sixth Lincoln-Douglas debate took place in 1858.

Clinton, looking tired but upbeat after a late-night White House celebration of his final State of the Union speech, went light on policy and heavy on spirit here in what he called "the heartland of America." Taking mercy on the shivering crowd, he spoke for barely 15 minutes, about one-sixth the time he devoted to Thursday's address to Congress and the nation.

And unlike the State of the Union--in which he acknowledged several national problems, such as the increased number of Americans without health insurance--this stop dwelt almost exclusively on optimism, patriotism and hope.

The nation should learn a lesson from Quincy's recovery from the devastating Mississippi flood of 1993, Clinton said, adding: "When you have the chance of a lifetime to do good, you cannot be lulled into complacency."

He vowed to spend his final year in office working to reduce the federal debt, improve schools and help more people go to college.

"I will do all I can to honor the spirit, the values that I have seen in this wonderful park today," he said. "When we join hands and join hearts, we can climb any mountain and turn back any tide."

The president traditionally hits the road the day after a State of the Union address, but past trips have been more leisurely and included Vice President Gore. Today, Gore headed back to New Hampshire, where he hopes to win Tuesday's Democratic presidential primary. The president, meanwhile, sandwiched this zip trip between a White House breakfast speech to the U.S. Conference of Mayors and an evening departure for Davos, Switzerland. There he will attend a one-day economic conference.

The White House chose Quincy in part because it illustrates many of the nation's economic strengths that Clinton loves to tout.

Illinois's unemployment rate has dropped from 7.2 percent to 4.2 percent during his administration, as 702,300 jobs were created. Quincy had lost population for several decades, its mayor said, but the town is growing again, and now is home to about 42,000 people.

Even more important, Quincy is the kind of town that still goes gaga when a president visits, the last one being Theodore Roosevelt.

Two marching bands and hundreds of families came out to hear Clinton's speech or wave at his motorcade.

Clinton, his wife and the Gores received similarly enthusiastic welcomes when they visited nearby Hannibal, Mo., in their 1992 campaign bus tour. Quincy TV station WGEM carried all of today's proceedings live, with awestruck commentary, as if the community could barely believe its luck.

Clinton soaked it all in, telling the crowd in frigid Washington Park, "It feels like Florida to me."

Terri Ayers, a Republican who spent her 43rd birthday today standing in the cold to greet the president's plane at Baldwin Field, was typical.

"This is the greatest thing that's happened in Quincy," she said. All the local schools took a holiday, and she brought her two children, 11 and 13. "This is historic," she said. "The kids need to be here."

In his 30-minute breakfast speech to the mayors, several of them Republicans, Clinton called for bipartisan efforts to preserve Medicare and other programs for the elderly. "It doesn't matter whether you're a Republican or a Democrat," he said. "We are going to double the number of people over 65 in the next 30 years."

He also poked fun at his State of the Union gaffe, when he twice said "liberal" when he meant to say "livable."

"I've got to do this, because I blew it twice last night," the president said, evoking laughter from the mayors. "We are going to build more livable communities. That was weird. In my whole life, I've never mispronounced that word before last night."