Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Arkansas Memories: Interviews from the Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Arkansas Memories: Interviews from the Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History

Article excerpt

Diane Blair and Skip Rutherford Remember the 1992 Presidential Election

Diane Blair: Skip, what is your position with the campaign?

Skip Rutherford: Fm an assistant to David Wilhelm, the campaign manager. I officially joined the campaign in September [1992].

DB: But you've held many unofficial portfolios.

SR: I was there before day one. In fact, the early days were the summers of 1990 and 1991 at the Hillcrest Softball League where, sitting in the bleachers, we would discuss presidential politics with Bill and Hillary - sometimes together, sometimes individually - because our daughters were playing softball. It's amazing what kind of discussion can take place at a baseball game on a splintery bleacher.

But I got the sense in early spring of 1991, at least from Hillary, that this was worth considering and giving very serious thought to. I don't remember the exact date, but it was one morning I was out jogging and [Clinton aide] Craig Smith drove by and said, "I've been driving all over the neighborhood looking for you. The governor wants to see us." And I said, "For what?" "He just wants to talk." I said, "Craig, I got up, I haven't shaved, haven't cleaned up. What are we going to do?" He said, "I don't know, but get in, he's only got an hour and a half." Went to the mansion and it was there with Craig, Bruce Lindsey [another Clinton aide], Bill, Hillary, and myself where the topic of running for president in 1992 was seriously discussed. A lot of dialogue, a lot of debate - We talked about, "Well, if you don't win you could do it in 1996, set the stage," and finally, after about two cups of coffee, Bruce looked over and said, "But Governor, what if we win?" I knew right then by the way he responded and the way Hillary responded, "Well we just serve. We do the job. We lead." I knew then, I came home and told Billie, I said, "Get ready."

I became involved in the campaign as a full-fledged volunteer coming over every night after work and on weekends. My first role was to chair a December fundraiser called the Winner Wonderland. It was at a time when the numbers were not great in the polls. It was a time when a lot of people thought that the governor of a small state, particularly a rural state, couldn't raise money. The most money ever raised at a single fund-raising political event in Arkansas was $600,000, and that was for David Pryor and Dale Bumpers, and they took PAC money. But still, that was significant. Previously, the total had been about $300,000. 1 privately thought if we could get to $750,000, it would just be a huge hit. We didn't take PAC money. [Campaign finance director] Rahm Emanuel came in and taught us all a new lesson about fund-raising. I told a reporter yesterday that the South hadn't seen anything like Rahm Emanuel since General Sherman marched on Atlanta. We raised $906,000. It got a lot of play across the country. Other presidential candidates could not raise that money from their home state. And I think it really gave a confidence level. It also encouraged donors from around the country.

DB: I have heard it described as the first primary.

SR: It was important. And we were real pleased with that. Then I started working on other basically special projects. Two or three things that come to mind is that one day I remember getting a call from David Wilhelm, who said, "Do you know Gennifer Flowers [with whom Clinton was accused of having an affair]?" I said, "David, I've never heard of her." And he said, "Well, you're probably the only person in Arkansas who hasn't." And he said, "Well, she sings at local bars." I said, "I've got three kids. I go home at night." And he said, "Well, please get over here, we need some help." I helped and obviously you did, too, and others putting contacts together and finding people and tracing down all sorts of rumors. Lots of calls from David Wilhelm. He said, "Do you know anything about a letter that Bill Clinton wrote when he was in Oxford? …

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