CHARLOTTE — Bill Clinton is the buzz at the Democratic National Convention.
Not surprising, right?
Clinton is still a beloved figure in Arkansas, although he hasn’t lived here in more than a decade. Arkansas delegates flocked to a fundraising party here Tuesday night called “A Party Two Decades in the Making” hosted by the Democratic Party of Arkansas. Clinton appeared in a packed room with actress Ashley Judd, actor Adrian Grenier and singer will.i.am., where he tried to fire up the base and raise money for the state's party.
For all the rah-rah and accolades surrounding the man of the hour, sources who attended told me that the event was lackluster although Clinton, they said, was on fire when it came to attacking Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and last week’s GOP convention in Tampa.
“They tell us they're good husbands, good fathers and good Americans,” he said. “Totally self-made. And you can trust me. See me after the election for the details.”
The Arkansas delegation has also lamented that they are far away from the action in the Warner Cable Arena. The Christian Science Monitor, too, noted the placement of Clinton’s home state delegates. “Arkansas, the state that produced the last Democrat who won reelection to the White House, doesn’t just have a bad location; the Arkansans have the worst seats in the place,” wrote Peter Grier in the Monitor.
They’re bad, one delegate told me, far, far away from the center of the action on the floor.
That can’t be surprising. Those prime spots are usually designated for the presidential and vice presidential candidates’ and swing states delegations. Arkansas is hardly that. It is clearly in the red column. In 2008, John McCain defeated Obama in Arkansas by 20 points, the largest margin in the country.
Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, who is attending this week’s convention, has said in the past that he would “probably” vote for Obama, but that he wouldn’t win the state.
“I think you’d have to be living in a cave not to believe that Obama doesn't stand a lot of chance of winning Arkansas. ... I don't think he's going to carry Arkansas,” Beebe said in an interview last fall.
As Arkansas has turned increasingly more red in the last four years, the state’s Democrats, who are frequently Blue Dogs that are now falling out of fashion in a divisive political environment, have drastically distanced themselves from Obama especially during the 2010 mid-terms.
In July, Arkansas’s only Democratic congressman, Mike Ross, was one of five Democrats who voted to repeal Obama’s health care law. Earlier this year, Arkansas Sen.Mark Pryor said he would not actively campaign for Obama.
Prior to heading to Charlotte, Arkansas’s Democrats said they were more focused on keeping the state legislature blue than Obama’s re-election campaign.
Here's a tip: Such sentiments won’t get you good seats even though the convention’s director of operations is from Arkansas.
But it’s hard for Arkansas Democrats to let go of the limelight. After all, they still ride high on the fact that it gave the nation the first two-term Democratic president since Franklin D. Roosevelt. Even Clinton boasts about this frequently.
It’s particularly frustrating for Arkansas Democrats who remember the glitzy conventions of the Clinton years in New York (1992), Chicago (1996) and Los Angeles (2000) to take a back seat in North Carolina to Illinois and Delaware delegations even if their guy Bill is speaking tonight.
During those conventions, Arkansans were feted as if they were celebrities. I covered the 2000 convention in Los Angeles where a mention of Arkansas or Clinton got you into any party in the city even without a ticket.
For Clinton, the veteran of six previous conventions, tonight is a new chapter in his political story.
“No former president’s ever done anything like this,” he said at last night’s party.
Arkansans in Charlotte shouldn't whine too much about their seats. After all, they got a visit from a former president. And as long as the Big Dawg stays around, Arkansas will always have its moments in the convention sun -- even if they're seated with the delegation from American Somoa.
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