Clinton legacy in Arkansas capital isn’t helping Democrat cause

  • Anirudh Bhattacharyya, Hindustan Times, Little Rock, Arkansas
  • Updated: Mar 06, 2016 14:48 IST
The main avenue running through the downtown shopping district of Little Rock is named after Bill Clinton. (Anirudh Bhattacharyya/HT Photo)

In the capital of the southern state of Arkansas, native state of the 42nd President of the United States, the Clinton imprint is everywhere.

Flights land at the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport. The city’s downtown is dominated by a shopping district on the bank of Arkansas river, featuring restaurants and retailers, bars and boutiques. This, the River Market, runs mainly along President Clinton Avenue.

Further downtown is the William J Clinton Presidential Library, abutted by the archives. A little along the way is a refurbished historic Choctaw Station (originally built in 1899), which houses the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service and the first office of the Clinton Foundation.

The University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock. The first offices of the Clinton Foundation were also in this building. (Anirudh Bhattacharyya/HT Photo)

From there, a visitor can look across to the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge. There is also a Hillary Clinton Children’s Library. Little Rock, in effect, is big on Clinton structures.

This may be a case of Clinton overkill but it definitely has an upside. For instance, the River Market area’s gentrification into a tourist destination coincided with the Clinton Center’s emergence.

Jordan Johnson, a spokesperson for the Clinton Foundation, said: “When we celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the Clinton Center, there was an economic study that showed it had a direct impact of over $3 billion on the region. Locally, it helped transform and revitalise downtown. It has helped bring people to Arkansas who otherwise would not come.”

Locals confirm his claim, noting how unsafe downtown was a decade ago and how it has now turned into a party destination.

But not a destination for the Democratic party. In 2008, as former Arkansas First Lady (later America’s First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State and now the likely Democratic nominee for President) Hillary contended during the primaries, she could win a state like Arkansas while arguing why she was a superior candidate to her rival Barack Obama.

The William J Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock. The complex also includes a museum and archives related to the 42nd President. (Anirudh Bhattacharyya/HT Photo)

Since 2010, however, the state has gone deep red, a Republican bastion, with every member of the current Congressional delegation, whether in the House of Representatives or the Senate, from that party.

Jay Barth, professor of politics at Hendrix College in Conway, said: “It’s certainly very clear as a political force that (the Democratic party) has diminished immensely. So the legacy remains but the real potency to win elections or shape elections, that really is gone.”

The Clintons left Arkansas in 1992 when Bill was elected President, and neither has been on a ballot in the state since 1990.

Another factor at play against Hillary in a general election battle in Arkansas is that the state, with its large population of rural, white voters (once Clinton supporters) are angry with President Obama, partly because of his race.

The Clinton Presidential Bridge in downtown Little Rock. (Anirudh Bhattacharyya/HT Photo)

Barth concurred: “It has been a time of rejection of the Obama administration. And Hillary Clinton is clearly now seen as part of the Obama White House as much as someone who has deep ties to the state.”

Bill Vickery, a Republican strategist, argued an “insert name here” Republican candidate would defeat Hillary in the November election in Arkansas.

There are those that believe Hillary may still stand a chance. Among them is Sheila Bronfman. “Anything’s possible,” she said. “Forty-seven percent of the state is Democrat, you never know. A lot of people care about Hillary.”

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