The Pact: Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and the Rivalry That Defined a Generation

By Steven M. Gillon | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE Paths to Power

EARLY ON A cold Monday morning in January 1974, Bill Clinton stood in front of a small crowd of family and friends at the Avanelle Motor Lodge in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and announced his candidacy for Congress. Ignoring his potential primary challengers, Clinton launched into an assault on the incumbent Republican opponent, tying him to the misdeeds of the Nixon White House and the developing Watergate scandal. “Of all the men in Congress, he is one of those who has allowed the President to go as far as he has,” Clinton told the appreciative crowd. A few months later, in April, Newt Gingrich gathered a dedicated group of supporters on a rainy Georgia night at his Watson Street headquarters in Carrollton, Georgia, to announce that he was also running for Congress. Calling himself a “common sense conservative,” he attacked the “political hacks” who did not “understand what is happening to the people they supposedly represent.”1

It is revealing that Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich ran for elective office for the first time in 1974. It was the year that Watergate shook the political establishment, when public distrust of Washington, along with anger with the rising price of gasoline, was running high. With the public growing increasingly cynical of politicians, they presented themselves as outsiders fighting against entrenched special interests. Both men were products of the new social and demographic realities of post-1960 politics. They hailed from the South, reflecting how both wealth and power had shifted from the rust belt to the sunbelt. They earned reputations early on as brilliant political strategists who were fascinated by ideas and willing to challenge the conventional wisdom. “We were both overgrown graduate students,” Gingrich admitted.2 They employed a media-savvy style of politics to lead a generational assault

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