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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William J. (Bill) Clinton, June 15, 1974. Interview A-0027. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Effect of identity politics on electoral success

Clinton ruminates on how his Yale law degree and support for McGovern resonates with Arkansas voters. He remembers a particularly effective ad that revealed his ties to McGovern, but also describes how he used his charisma to win significant majorities in areas that would surely have disapproved of such liberal political leanings. He anticipates that Hammerschmidt might attack him for his youthfulness and reflects on how such attacks affect incumbents.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William J. (Bill) Clinton, June 15, 1974. Interview A-0027. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

WALTER DE VRIES:
Do you find it strange that they felt comfortable with you? A university professor? You went to Yale, right?
JACK BASS:
Rhode scholar and McGovern worker. Was this perceived? Do they know that or is this stuff they don't even know?
WILLIAM J. (BILL) CLINTON:
Yeah, I would say they knew about the. . . . Well, one of my opponents ran a big, started running against me early in the primary. And he had these ads which appeared once as a quarter page ad and a couple weeks later as a third of a page ad. It said candidate profile and it had Gene Rainwater and Bill Clinton on it. He was the one that subsequently got in the run off. And it had his age and mine. His political experiences, you know, his offices, legislative offices. None by my name. Present legislative duties and his committees. And it had none by mine. It had his military record and none by mine. You know, like that. And it had his political and civic affairs and job experience. And he had deleted what he wanted to. He'd taken it from my biographical sheet. Said that I'd served 8 months as a law professor and had worked for 5 months at a time in two different periods at another college. And implied that those were the only jobs I've ever had. And then at the end it had political and civic and religious affiliations, something like that. And the thing he'd left on mine. . . . He'd left off all these Arkansas campaigns I'd worked on and, you know, people I'd been involved with. It said Texas, the chairman of McGovern campaign, or coordinator or whatever he put down, Texas coordinator of the McGovern campaign. And so he ran it in the newspaper and people read it, you know. But I . . . just for example, I got a call from a 70 year old man the next day. Who's the secretary of the county committee down at Van Buren, which is the fifth biggest county in my district. Crawford county just above Ft Smith. He said "Hell, son, I think we might take him out of there without a run off since he started running that ad." He said "If I were you I'd call a press conference and tell them you're sorry he couldn't be the youngest law professor in the history of the university." I mean it's funny, you know. And people tell me it's a peculiar district in a funny year. And that McGovern thing, he was right there. It beats anything I ever saw. And I had any number of people tell me that they thought that was a political ad for me because they're sick of, you know, experience. It's a peculiar thing and it's a mystery to me. Now the McGovern thing has hurt me some, don't misunderstand me. I was down in Clark county which is unknown, that's the fifth biggest county and Crawford is the sixth biggest county. Down the way there on the way back to Little Rock. And it's an enormous county geographically. Roscoe's the main city but north of there just no telling how many square miles of just rural area. And I went up to one of these communities to church at the end of the primary. I carried the city of Roscoe and got my brains beat out in the county. Just got obliterated in the county. And I went to this country store to see a guy who was in large part responsible for it. Just standing there talking to him and that's what he wanted to know about. He was [rabid] about this McGovern thing. The idea that I had been for McGovern, you see. So I took about ten minutes and told him all about it. And I told the truth. I'd worked in the Senate in '66 and seen all those guys. Most of those Senators I've been very disillusioned with. Watching their responses to the Vietnam war, whether they were for it or against it. I think they were by and large playing it to their own advantage. Scared just to do one thing or the other. And I thought McGovern had been one of the few decent people. One of the least egotistical men I'd met. All which I thought was true. I just told him about, as long as I've known McGovern, see. unknown I told him the same things I told McGovern about what I didn't like about him.And he said "Okay." I mean if I could talk to enough people about it maybe they just wouldn't care. You can't be defensive about it. You don't apologize for it. He said "Okay." I carried 80% of the guy's boxes in the run off. Just beat anything I ever saw. So, you know, it's a thing that can be dealt with. Now if Hammerschmidt does it, it he starts to jump on me about it. In the first place, nobody cares about my age, I'm convinced. Or very few do. They wouldn't vote for me anyway, the people that would use my age as a reason for voting against me. And if he starts to use all these things that he's obviously going to use. I think he's going to try to play labor and age—
WALTER DE VRIES:
He's already done that with the [something about press?].
WILLIAM J. (BILL) CLINTON:
Yes. I've gotten a very positive response to that. See, Bumpers has created a climate with his campaign in which you. . . . If the incumbent starts dumping on the challenger it hurts him. I mean Fulbright played his thing all wrong, in a way. Fulbright dumped on Bumpers. And people now, it's ironic, because of my close personal friendship with Fulbright that I would be riding in the same tide that Bumpers is. To some degree. A lot of people see me in that position. And when John Paul says things like that, after I've laid bare to the whole district on television several times exactly how much money I've had from labor in that primary and in the run off. What percentage of the total it was. What percentage I will ever take from them. And made them perfectly aware of the fact that they'll always know how much money. It's just not going to be an issue. I turned down $4,200 from them in the run off. So I'll take some more for the general election now because I think it's a different election and I think it's a legitimate thing to do. But it is an issue, man, in this area because they don't want. . . . They want an independent Congressman. They don't want anybody that belongs to anybody. And Prior really unknown two years ago. One thing is he didn't play it right. You know, he spent $400,000 on his race for Senator. And he took $75,000 of labor money. And I never once heard him say "You think 18% of my total contributions is enough to buy me?" He didn't play it right.
WALTER DE VRIES:
Of course it was also out of state money.
WILLIAM J. (BILL) CLINTON:
Yeah. But a lot of money is. They're dumb about that. They ought to swap that around. Hammerschmidt just got $3,000 from the AMA because of the way they do it. You know, their bank accounts [account's] in Arkansas. And labor's real dumb about that.
WALTER DE VRIES:
You mean it's $3,000 from AMPAC, their political action committee? What they do, they have a political action committee in each state. And it's funnelled through their local committee.
WILLIAM J. (BILL) CLINTON:
Yeah. The secretary of the medical society sent a letter to every doctor in the district trying to convince them I was for socialized medicine, whatever that is. And that I was anti-physician because of the hassle I got into with some doctors in Scrumdale [?] . That cost me a few hundred votes, too.