Clinton books a page in the annals

US ELECTIONS: President shows appetite for re-election
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It was barely midday in Little Rock and the "Clinton-Gore Victory" T-shirts were on the stalls - and selling for $30 for a large. By three o'clock, White House staff were scattering hints about the second-term cabinet and by four the queue to get in front of the Old State House, where a Clinton acceptance speech was scheduled for six hours later, was already two blocks long. Half the country had yet to vote and in this town the carnival had already begun.

"Well, we're not losing," an aide of the President joked as he strolled to the bandstand where Tony Bennett was preparing to croon. Two jumbo television screens, ready to broadcast the network election programmes, screeched the latest episodes of the daytime soaps. Beneath one of them, a small, mostly black, knot of people formed around the figure of Jesse Jackson.

Rarely can democracy have put on so relaxed a face as it did in this city yesterday. The suspense that reigned here four years ago, when the votes for Clinton and Bush were being counted, was entirely absent. Instead there was only anticipation. Anticipation of the news that a once-obscure southern governor was about to pull off what no Democrat President has achieved since Franklin Roosevelt: his re-election to the White House for a second four-year term. And anticipation of a rollicking good party with 100,000 in attendance.

Only in the steaming kitchen of Doe's Eat Place, Mr Clinton's favourite dining spot that became one of the metaphors of the 1992 campaign, was there any kind of uncertainty. And that was over whether the President would accept an invitation to drop in to indulge his famous appetite. "He hasn't replied yet, but we can forgive him that because he is a busy man," exclaimed Doe's chief cook, Lucille Robinson. She had prepared especially large burger patties just in case.

Doe's, with its worn linoleum and dingy ceiling, was guaranteed some of the action. While President Clinton and Vice-President Al Gore were to watch the returns in their respective suites atop the Excelsior Hotel - each with four televisions to scan, one for each network - Mr Clinton's most loyal lieutenants, led by George Stephanopoulos, had reserved the restaurant as their election-night camp.

Mr Clinton was evidently in relaxed mood. On arriving at the hotel in the early hours of yesterday at the end of his six-day, 18-state swing, he did not sleep. Instead, he huddled with two advisers to play his favourite card game, hearts, until sunrise. (He lost).

Earlier, though, when Air Force One finally hit the tarmac at Little Rock airport, the President's emotions were fully on display. Maybe it was the champagne and mango ice cream consumed just before landing or the Macarena dancing session he had enjoyed with the reporters that was firing him. More likely, it was the near-sure knowledge that what must be the last political campaign of his life was about to end in delicious victory. To strains of James Brown singing "I feel good", he plunged straight into the awaiting crowd, which had lit a blizzard of sparklers in welcome.

There were few in Little Rock who dared to mention the wounds that his presidency and the Whitewater scandal have inflicted on his home state. "People are sick of hearing about it," George Eldridge, the owner of Doe's would only retort. "The Republicans won't let go of it, because they can't stand the fact that Bill Clinton is going to be President again".