Campaign staffer for Clinton's '74
congressional campaign. He and Bill covered all of Arkansas in a beat up Gremlin with no money and no staff. Although Clinton lost the race, his campaign brilliance catapulted him onto the political scene.
Talk about that plane trip you took with Bill back in the very early years
of campaigning ...
Well, this was early in the campaign. This was the primary before we had the
Hammersmit campaign in the fall. We had two or three opponents in the primary,
but we all felt Bill would win...
[But we had to go file for office in Little Rock.] And Bill and I were 27. So
we were flying along and I took control of the plane and flew it part of the
way down there to Little Rock and the pilot called in the tower and got
permission to land and we landed and everything was fine. And we had to go to
the State Democratic Headquarters and file, and then we had to go to the State
Capital and file with the Secretary of State's office. And I had called ahead
and made a lot of press contacts and all the press was just there in force to
interview Clinton, 'cause he was taking on, the eventual thought [was he] would win the
primary and take on Hammersmit in the fall. And that was big deal because
Hammersmit had not been challenged in years. Bill Clinton was sort of a young,
up and coming political star in Arkansas and so we spent all afternoon there
with different interviews with the press and so on and then, of course, he had
to every single office in the State Capital and meet every employee in every
And just to make a long story short, we spent all afternoon there....when they
closed the Capital we left and went back to the airport. By the time we got
permission to depart, from Little Rock airport, it was just about dark. You
could see the sunset. And so we started flying and I didn't feel like we were
going on the right course, cause it just didn't seem exactly right, well, we
flew along about an hour and we should have been in Fayetteville by the time an
hour got back cause it was a pretty quick flight. It was totally dark, and we
were flying and flying, and I was in the back seat of the plane going back. So
Clinton started looking around at me and going, "What's going on? What's going
on?" And I just said, "Everything's okay. It's all right." And I leaned
over to the pilot and said, "You know where we are?" And he said, "We-e-ell"
and pulled out a map. And when he pulled out that map, I thought, "Oh my
goodness." And I knew we were lost. And I knew we were headed somewhere in
the mountains of Missouri. So it was sort of tense times. I didn't know
exactly what we were going to do. And we were flying over a town, a big town.
And there's not a lot of big towns in North Arkansas. So I said, "Let's fly
down low." I told the pilot, "Let's fly down low and go around that town down
there." Turned out it was Harrison, Arkansas. And when I realized it was
Harrison I told the pilot, "We need to put it on a heading West and we'll be
over there in just a few minutes. And we did. And we radioed Hannen and had
people pick us up at the Springdale airport because it was closer and it was
easy to land. You didn't have to get permission from the tower or anything
like that because the Fayetteville airport had commercial planes landing and
all. So we landed at Springdale and we got in the car. I was in the back
seat. Clinton and George were in the front seat. And as soon as we shut the
door, we hadn't even pulled out of the parking lot. Clinton just blew up .
He exploded. He said, "Where did you get that pilot?" And I said, I couldn't
even talk because he kept on talking. Every time I tried to talk he would talk.
"Where did you get that pilot" he says, "we could have been killed up there in
that plane. How dare you jeopardize my life and jeopardize my whole political
future because of a pilot who can't even fly, can't even find his way."
And I kept trying to explain that I couldn't find a pilot. This was the only
pilot I could find. Well, this was the first time I had ever seen him get real
violent and mad. He was hitting on the dashboard and just real upset. And, of
course, he did that a lot of other times in the future and I just got to the
point where I sort of got used to it. But in a few minutes he calmed down and
cooled off and we went on to the political rally. And it was a big hit. So
that really is the first time that I ever experienced him getting real upset.
It wasn't the last time, but I realized real quick that he had a temper. But
we made it through.
FL: Bill Clinton's ability to move from one political reality to the next.
Frame the story about Fulbright, his mentor, who had just lost the race and
ended his career.
In late May, when the primary came around in 1974, Senator Fulbright was
defeated by Governor Bumpers for the United States Senate. And during that
whole Spring election we tried to stay as far away from that race as possible
because we just needed to be in our own race. Although, of course, Clinton
looked at Senator Fulbright as his mentor. He told a lot of stories about
Senator Fulbright and how much he had admired him throughout the whole Spring
But the Senator had been defeated by Governor Bumpers and that was on Tuesday
night. And later on in the week, Thursday or so, Bill Clinton himself had
scheduled a meeting on Saturday morning with Archie Schaeffer, Sr. in
Charleston, Arkansas. And he asked me if I would go with him. So we drove
down early on Saturday morning and met with Mr. Schaeffer in his kitchen,
breakfast room, overlooking his real pretty backyard. And on the way down there
he said, "Governor Bumpers goes home every weekend and his house in the
backyard of Mr. Schaeffer's." He was his brother-in-law. He said, "I would
imagine that Bumpers will be over to visit with us." And I didn't even realize
that actually until we were on the way down there and he said "I wanted to make
sure you went with me on this because I thought you would remember this for a
long time." So we were sitting in the room there, the breakfast room, and
Archie, Sr., was a real nice man and we were visiting about the election and so
Well, in a few minutes I looked out across the back lawn and there comes the
Governor. He walks in and we all shake hands and visit a little bit, small
talk, and we sit down and start drinking coffee and spent all morning talking
about our campaign and a little bit about his campaign, because he had already
won. There was no Republican opposition so he had already won the Senate seat
with that election. So in November he would be leaving, in January he would be
leaving to go to Washington to take over Senator Fulbright's seat. Of course,
he was still the Governor of Arkansas. To me, you know, as a young man, I
thought this was one of the greatest moments of my life to be sitting there
with Senator Bumpers, Governor Bumpers then.
And we spent all morning visiting and at the end of that meeting that morning
I think, I feel like, that Clinton in his mind had changed to Bumpers, became
friends with Senator Bumpers. He sort of switched from the Fulbright era to the
Bumpers era just one Saturday morning in Charleston, Arkansas, at a breakfast
table, drinking a cup of coffee with the new Senator. And I'm sure he still
loved Senator Fulbright and did until he passed away. But in political
reality, he made amends and got on to the bandwagon of the new Senator in one
morning. And he was real good about doing that, changing from one era to the
next era and that was one of the most interesting meetings I think that I ever
sat in on during that campaign.
FL: Do you see that pragmatism as a defining quality in Bill Clinton?
Well, he was that way always in his early years. He had the ability to
graciously let the old pass and quickly switch over to a new organization, or a
new administration, or a new political system. He was, it's politics. You've
got to do it, actually, to survive. He didn't have anything against Bumpers at
all. It was not anything against Bumpers. He was, Senator Fulbright was his
mentor and he worked for Senator Fulbright, and he told literally hundreds of
Fulbright stories and stories about while he worked for Senator Fulbright in
Washington. He just worshipped Senator Fulbright and the whole organization
that worked for Senator Fulbright because they gave him his start in politics.
That's where he got a lot of his real experience. We capitalized on that a
whole lot, in our press releases and our introductions in speeches and so on,
because it gave Clinton some credibility. Who is this nobody? Well, he's a
person who's been behind the scene and he worked for Senator Fulbright on the
Foreign Relations committee. So that gave Clinton some credibility early on.
FL: Bring Virginia to life in all her bold colors.
Well, Virginia was a lady, if you knew Virginia and Virginia liked you, you were
best of friends. And if Virginia knew you and she didn't like you, well, it
was battle royal. Virginia was a wonderful, wonderful lady. I loved her to
death. I loved her so much that, in fact, when Virginia passed away I just
cried. I literally shed tears. She was the finest mother that a son could
have. When the campaign got started she worked every weekend. She worked 9 or
10 hours a day as an anesthesiologist here in Hot Springs... but every
weekend she and Marge Mitchell were on the road, working campaigning for Bill
Clinton. There was a time or two that I remember very well that Bill and
Virginia and I would be driving down the road and she would say, "Stop." And
she'd say, "Pull into that house over there." And we'd pull into that house
and she'd make Bill get out and go up to the door and talk to those people
because she had been door to door and those people were big Clinton supporters
and she wanted them to meet her son.
Every time there was a political event somewhere in our district, she would
try to be there if she could. And she'd bring a whole car load of ladies and
they'd work the crowd. I recall real well the very first time that I ever had,
spent the night at Virginia's house. I'd met her once before but the first
time I ever spent the night at her house, Bill was doing an announcement the
very next morning and she was so gracious and so wonderful to me. She loved
Bill and he was her number one son, and of course Roger was a wonderful young
boy then. But she was just so nice to me. And she always was nice to me. All
the people that she liked. We were at her house and this was the first, he was
announcing the next day, and the newspaper had an article on the front page,
the Hot Springs newspaper. And it talked about the announcement being schedule
the next morning. And I was reading it and I said, "They quoted me. My name
is in this paper." And Virginia walked over to me and she put her arm around
me and she said, "Ron, it may be the first time, but it's sure not going to be
the last time your name's in the paper." Real motherly, you know.
FL: Virginia wasn't a nine to five mother. She went to the race track, she
gambled. Give us a sense of that.
Well, Virginia didn't bake pies. She wasn't a homemaker type mother. She was
a real active type person. Some people say that Virginia spent too much time
at the horse races. I remember one time I went to the horse races and she had a
box there. And she just insisted, this was in the Spring campaign, she just
insisted that I sit in her box with her. And she didn't tell me very many
horses to bid on, 'cause she kind of kept that close. But she was just out at
the horse races. [S]he was out doing things, she worked hard. But she also, after
work, she just didn't go home and vacuum the floor. She had a wonderful but
she didn't like taking care of home chores. She liked to get out and do things
and go places. And this campaign just gave her a whole new lease on life. Not
only in that campaign, but every campaign that Bill was in from then on, she
was real active in the campaigns.
One time I remember she asked me, "Do you think I'm hurting Bill publicly
[by] helping him run for office?" And I hesitated, and I finally said, "Well,
some people say you may be but I know you want to do this and you should and
I'm not going to tell you not to get out publicly and help. But some people
say you may be hurting him." But I advised her to do what she thought the
best thing to do. Not stop but maybe keep a little lower profile.
FL: How did she look? Describe that for us.
Virginia grew on you. A lot of people's first impressions of Virginia was,
Virginia had a lot of makeup all the time. Any time you ever saw Virginia she
had a lot of makeup. Her eyebrows were painted and with just a whole lot of
makeup and some jewelry, but it was not your typical mother image. She was
just a different lady. I recall on several occasions, Virginia would be real
upset about somebody, or some person, or something. And Bill would ask her,
"Mother please, just don't get so excited about this." He was such a
diplomatic person. And she was not diplomatic at all. She had to be calmed
down. And as long as Jeff was around, Bill's step father, Jeff, I think, was a
calming force. He was a wonderful man. As long as he was there with Virginia,
he kind of kept Virginia from being so aggressive. But then Jeff passed away
during that election. But Virginia was a lady that tried to go to every
political event that her son was involved in. She would come up to
Fayetteville to the campaign headquarters and it was kind of upsetting for the
staff for Virginia to come in because it would just mess up our routine. She
was real loud, but wonderful. I loved her to death. But there were people that
didn't like Virginia. There were people that really didn't like Virginia at
all. And she came on with a real strong way to some people. They were not,
some people just didn't like Virginia at all. But others did.
FL: How do you think she influenced Bill? Do you see her in him?
You see a whole lot of Virginia even right now in Bill
Clinton. Virginia was very smart. She was brilliant. And even today, there
are some mannerisms that he has, and appearance also, if you knew Virginia as
well as I knew Virginia, and Bill as well as I knew Bill, you can see Virginia
right now in Bill. In the way he acts sometimes and also just appearance
wise. You can see Virginia's face and Virginia's little smile at times with
Bill Clinton right now, today, as President of the United States.
FL: Specifically what qualities?
Well, Virginia loved to campaign. She loved to get out with people and shake
hands and he loves to get out with people and shake hands. He's in his element
when he's out campaigning. And I know as President it's hard to do that.
You're sheltered and you're not able to get out and campaign. A lot of the
campaigning has to be staged now. Whereas early on in his political career we
were able to stop in every country grocery store in the hills of Northwest
Arkansas and talk with all the old men and little old ladies and just do real
one on one campaign and real visiting. And now it's a whole different
situation. But with Virginia, just a whole lot of his mannerisms and a whole
lot of his, the way he smiles, and the way he laughs. The way he laughs is, a
lot of times, exactly the way Virginia laughed. When he really has a big
chuckle, I see Virginia in him.
FL: Can you talk a little bit about the Clintons Methodist church. And how that
expresses Clinton's style?
What I'm just about to say.... It's real important. I grew up in the Baptist
church. And not until I was grown and had a family and children did I change
to the Methodist church. And I love the Baptist church. I still love the
Baptist church and my upbringing in the Baptist church. But there's a lot of
difference in the Baptist church and the Methodist church. The Baptist church.
They don't ever quit on time. Church is supposed to finish at noon and
sometimes it's 12:30 or so before the Baptist church finishes. They'll sing
the first verse and last verse and if the songleader thinks it's real good then
they'll sing the second and third verse. Bill quoted a lot of scripture during
the campaign. He talked about his church a whole lot. He didn't attend church
during that time but he talked about the church a whole lot. I think he had a
strong conviction to his religion. He didn't attend church hardly any, but
none of us did because we worked seven days a week all the time.
Well, I have fond memories of the relationship that I had with Bill Clinton
over many years. Over a fifteen year period. Not only after that election was
over. We remained friends. I still consider him a friend. But I worked in
several other campaigns, not in a lead capacity cause I was moved on to a job
and other things. But I continued to support him and help him and be with him.
To be a friend of Bill Clinton's was a good feeling. Sometimes he was not real
popular in this state and it wasn't always an asset to be friends with Bill
Clinton. There were of course the hard core yellow dog Democrats that
supported Bill Clinton, but even within the Democratic ranks he wasn't always
the favorite. The favorite person. To be friends with Bill Clinton was a good
Bill Clinton did a lot of things for his friends. He did as much as he could
for his friends. If his friends would ask for a favor or for him to help them,
I think he did his best to try to help his friends. Very often he would
promise too much and could not always deliver. He was a person that was always
trying to develop new friends. Therefore a lot of times his old friends got
left sort of to the side. He explained it real well one time that people, to
me, that a lot of people got tired of campaigning and tired of politicians real
fast because there was always another campaign and most people couldn't sustain
campaign, after campaign, after campaign. And it was the friendships that you
make campaigning are not the lasting friendships that you make in boyhood or
the friendships that you make in the military or the friendships that you make
with your colleagues at work. But there are a few people that he had as
friends early on that still really consider him a strong friend. A real close
friend. Not just a political ally. But very close in friendship. And I
consider myself one of those people. I was someone that worked with him to
help him get started and someone who worked with him not only in the young new
congressional campaign in 1974, but someone who helped him for 12 years or so
campaigning in different capacities.
But to visit in his home, to visit personally, to visit on the phone. He was
someone who always returned a phone call. I would call him and he would return
a phone call to me. He'd call me on various occasions. We shared a lot more
than just politics. And I think part of what we shared was maybe history.
Maybe his early beginning in elective politics. Certainly his family, his
mother, and his brother, and Jeff, his stepfather who passed away. And of
course with Bill and Hillary. And, of course, I knew Hillary before they
married. And of course went to their wedding. I knew them different than just
being a campaign person.