The Good Ol’ Days: In a London Fog
I was living and working in Raleigh, North Carolina in October, 1992 when the Clinton-Gore campaign came through on what used to be called a “whistle-stop tour”, except they didn’t use a train. They used a caravan of buses and most buses don’t have whistles, but you may want to verify that with Hartley Hageness.
The candidates and their wives made a series of stops in Greensboro, Raleigh and Wilson. I didn’t know much about Mr. Clinton at the time, except that he was the governor of Arkansas, grew up in Hope, Ark. and could play the saxophone. His running mate, Al Gore, Jr., was a U.S. senator from Tennessee and the son of a former U.S. senator. Mr. Gore’s childhood home was a suite in the Fairfax Hotel on Embassy Row in Washington, D.C. (you can look it up).
Nobody really gave the Democrat ticket much hope to change the grip on the Oval Office that Republican Ronald Reagan had enjoyed from 1981-89, followed by his vice president George H. W. Bush, elected as “Reagan’s third term” in 1988. Mr. Bush had peaked in the polls with an 89% approval rating following successful military operations in Panama and Gulf War I in 1991.
Both Democrat candidates were Southern Baptists and from adjacent states, something that wouldn’t have happened in earlier campaigns. “Balancing the ticket” was a priority in most national presidential races. They were known as “Sons of the New South” down below the Mason-Dixon Line.
By October of 1992, Mr. Clinton’s tardiness at rallies and press conferences had coined the term “Clinton time”. Although the caravan was scheduled to arrive at 3:30 p.m., it didn’t show up until 5. I had gotten off work at 2 and drove to the Capitol grounds downtown where the rally was to be held. As I waited with about five hundred other people on the sidewalk outside an older state government building, some Clinton campaign workers arrived and began setting up. All of the many workers were in their 20’s and had cell phones, which were still an expensive novelty for most of us in 1992.
A young woman set up a toy donkey decorated like a Mexican pinata on the curb, along with a loudspeaker that blared Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow”, the campaign’s theme song. As we waited, a white Volkswagen Rabbit convertible with four Republican college students circled past every few minutes. They chanted slogans and waved anti-Clinton signs and each time they passed by they tossed a shower of something at the crowd. On their third pass, one of the things landed at my feet. It was a frozen waffle, lampooning Mr. Clinton’s alleged waffling on some issues.
The Clintons and Gores finally arrived, live at five, and they both made well-written, perfunctory speeches to polite applause. They then boarded the buses and headed “down East” to Wilson, an important agricultural center. I followed them out of curiosity.
North Dakotans don’t get much attention in national campaigns. In the fall of 1952, General Dwight Eisenhower, the Republican hopeful, appeared in Minot. My parents sat on the front row and Eisenhower kept looking at my mother during his address. It was only several years later that we learned of an Englishwoman named Kay Summersby who had been Ike’s chauffer in World War II. Apparently my mother resembled her at that time.
In 1960, Eisenhower’s vice president Richard Nixon was campaigning against John F. Kennedy and made an October stop in Davenport, Iowa. We were coincidentally staying there and went out to watch as “Pat and Dick” raced past our hotel in a Cadillac convertible at 40 mph, with Mr. and Mrs. Nixon perched on the trunk, smiling and waving at the mostly curious crowd.
I arrived at the 1992 Clinton-Gore rally in Wilson about 8 p.m. There were a lot of tobacco farmers and livestock folks in attendance and the rally’s warm-up speech was given by the N.C. Secretary of Agriculture, a tall, older man straight from Central Casting, wearing a small Stetson and flailing his arms about as he led the crowd in some rah-rahs. I was still wearing my FAA supervisor’s necktie and had donned a beige London Fog topcoat against the chilly October evening.
As the rally continued, the casually-attired Clintons and Gores took the stage. They all wore slacks and zippered jackets and were smiling and acting appreciative of the 2,000 or so turners-out. I was not interested in the rhetoric and began edging closer to the stage, just to see what would happen. Perhaps my London Fog topcoat was my cover, because none of the similarly-attired Secret Service boys even noticed. Soon I was standing right next to the rear of the stage just behind the candidates as they faced the crowd and was within tobacco-spitting distance.
I don’t recall there being many people of color at either of the rallies, but I do recall seeing some Confederate battle flags at the Wilson rally, along with stars and bars on a few campaign buttons.
After the rally was over, I gathered up a couple of Clinton-Gore posters as souvenirs, thinking that they would someday be valuable as trivia items. I had no idea the effect a third-party candidate like Ross Perot would have on the American electorate. Although Clinton-Gore lost in North Carolina, they managed 370 electoral votes, a hundred more than needed to win, thanks to huge support from voters in Northern and Western states.
Bill is a Rugby native, graduating from RHS in 1966. His family operated the Gronvold Motor Company until 1968. He is a retired FAA air traffic controller and although he resides in Orlando, Florida, his heart will always be with the Heart of America.
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