Political Postcard: Still Love For Bill Clinton In A Place Called Hope

May 10, 2015
Originally published on May 10, 2015 5:37 pm

Mike Huckabee kicked off his second run for the White House this week in Arkansas, a state where he has deep roots that he shares with another famous politician — Bill Clinton.

Huckabee and Clinton were both governors of the Southern state for more than a decade, and they also both hail from the same hometown — Hope.

Hope was prominent in Huckabee's announcement with TV monitors emblazoned with the double entendre, "Hope."

"We will make that journey from Hope to higher ground," Huckabee said during his announcement.

Clinton, of course, made this line famous in 1992: "I still believe in a place called Hope."

The two men spent their youth going to some of the same schools and hanging out at some of the same places, though not at the same time, since Clinton is nine years older.

But with Clinton a hero to rank-and-file Democrats, and Huckabee courting evangelical voters, ideology is not a shared trait.

Before the Huckabee rally this week, Helen Wood was ready to cheer the newest addition to the GOP field.

"Very nice day," Wood said. "Big things happening in Hope."

She's a retiree from a local school and a Huckabee backer. But she also offered this when asked about the other man from Hope: "I have great respect for what President Clinton did as a president when he was in office."

Certainly, there are plenty of Clinton critics in Arkansas. But Clinton and Huckabee remain popular in the state. Roby Brock, who runs a multimedia political and business news outlet based in Little Rock, said it's because both are so good at the retail politics that Arkansas demands — lots of handshaking and remembering everybody's name.

"He could still talk to a guy who was fixing a car on his back in an engine shop," Brock said of Clinton. "And Mike Huckabee has got those same blue-collar roots and can communicate that very well."

As for what any of this means for Hillary Clinton, Brock noted that she's not as popular as her husband in Arkansas. Not by far, but he said she does benefit from some residual good will.

Clinton grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, a far cry from Hope. So, it is strange to listen to tape of her from back when she was Arkansas' first lady and hear a hint of the South in her voice.

Now, unlike it did with Bill Clinton, who was able to win Arkansas twice when he ran for president, don't look for the state to get behind Hillary Clinton's presidential run.

Arkansas has gone through a political transition and has become a solidly Republican state.

But even a Huckabee fan this week smiled at the notion of Bill Clinton moving back into the White House.

"I love him, too," said 28-year-old Brandi Tuttle, owner of L.K.'s Closet, a children's clothing store in town. She said she is actually Clinton's fourth cousin, and she added that if he becomes the first first gentleman in U.S. history, "I think he'll do great, because he's been there before, and he's known how to do it."

When it came to Hillary Clinton, though, Tuttle was curt.

"I really don't have any feeling or say either way," Tuttle said, adding, "I don't know her." She's just "not like the ones born and raised."

Huckabee's announcement this week could very well be the most attention Arkansas gets in the entire 2016 presidential campaign, but folks in Hope and elsewhere have been enjoying their connection to three potential big players in the race.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Mike Huckabee kicked off his second run for the White House this past week in Arkansas; a state where he has deep roots that he shares with another famous politician, Bill Clinton. NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea talked to people there about both men and about another 2016 candidate with Arkansas ties - Hillary Clinton.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Bill Clinton and Mike Huckabee, both Arkansans, each was Governor for more than a decade, but they also both hail from the same hometown, Hope. Here's Huckabee this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE HUCKABEE: We will make that journey from Hope to higher ground.

(APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: And recall this from Clinton back in 1992.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BILL CLINTON: I still believe in a place called Hope.

GONYEA: So you've got two guys who spent their youth going to some of the same schools and hanging out at some of the same places, though not at the same time since Clinton is nine years older. Before the Huckabee rally this week, Helen Wood was ready to cheer on the newest addition to the GOP presidential field.

HELEN WOOD: Very nice day. Big things happening in Hope.

GONYEA: Wood, a retiree from a local school, is a Huckabee backer, but then she offers this.

WOOD: I have respect for the things that President Clinton did as president while he was in office.

GONYEA: So praise for Clinton at a Republican event. Certainly there are plenty of Bill Clinton critics in Arkansas, but Clinton and Huckabee remain popular in the state. Roby Brock, who runs a multimedia political and business news outlet based in Little Rock, says it's because both are so good at the retail politics that Arkansas demands - lots of hand shaking and remembering everybody's name. Here's Brock on Clinton.

ROBY BROCK: He can still talk to a guy that was, you know, fixing a car underneath, you know, on his back in an engine shop, you know. And Mike Huckabee's got those same blue-collar roots and can communicate that very well.

GONYEA: As for what any of this means for Hillary Clinton, Brock says she's not as popular as her husband in Arkansas, not by far. But he says she does benefit from some residual goodwill. It is strange to listen to tape of her from back when she was Arkansas's first lady and hear this native of suburban Chicago with a hint of the South in her voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: The route to being somebody in this society starts with education. And we intend to be sure that everybody in this room and every child in this state...

GONYEA: Again, that's Hillary Rodham Clinton in 1983. Now, don't look for the state to get behind her presidential run. Arkansas has gone through a transition and has become a Republican state. But even one Huckabee fan this week smiled at the notion of Bill Clinton moving back into the White House. This is 28-year-old business owner Brandi Tuttle in Hope.

BRANDI TUTTLE: It'll be a first for sure.

GONYEA: It'll be a first. Well, how do you think he'd do? Do you like the idea of Bill Clinton going back?

TUTTLE: I think he'll do great because he's been there before, and he's known how to do it.

GONYEA: Huckabee's announcement this week could very well be the most attention Arkansas gets in the entire 2016 presidential campaign. But folks in Hope and elsewhere have been enjoying their connection to three potential big players in the race. Don Gonyea, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.