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The Arkansas Travelers: Meet the volunteers who campaign for Clinton

world Updated: Feb 28, 2016 13:36 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hillary Clinton 2016

Sheila Bronfman (L) with Hillary Clinton(HT Photo)

It will be a full four decades this year since Sheila Bronfman first met the Clintons. A year after former American President Bill Clinton married Hillary Rodham, the Little Rock, Arkansas-based Bronfman first encountered Bill, who had been elected Attorney General of the State.

So impressed was Bronfman with the young politician that she established the Arkansas Travelers, a group of volunteer campaigners for Clinton, who started going around the country to garner support for Bill as he ran for President in 1992. They repeated that process in 1996, and then expanded their mission in 2008, as Hillary unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination in the presidential race. They are back on the road this year to campaign for the former First Lady and Secretary of State in her second bid to become the Democratic nominee.

Bronfman has known the Clintons through their various avatars: From Bill’s initial years as Attorney General of Arkansas to his election as Governor of the state in 1979, and later his two terms in the White House. Similarly, through those years, Hillary has gone from practising at the Rose Law Firm to US First Lady, a Senator from New York, US Secretary of State, and now, her second attempt to become President of the United States.

Bronfman, a governmental and political relations consultant in Little Rock, the Arkansas capital, said the Arkansas Travelers was formed in 1991. “A lot of people wanted to work on (Bill Clinton’s) Presidential campaign. (Former President) Jimmy Carter had his Peanut Brigade, they had gone travelling for him.” The logic behind their travels, often in vans emblazoned with the Arkansas Travelers insignia, is that they have known the Clintons personally and attempt to transmit their own enthusiasm to those they meet around the country. While campaigns have taken to social media for outreach, these steadfast Clinton friends focus on face-to-face contact in small towns where the official campaign machinery may have no presence.

The Arkansas Travelers during their recent trip through Tennessee (HT Photo)

In a country where political campaigns are largely channeled through various media platforms, these are some examples of retail politics that serve to humanize a candidate.

The Travelers take along with them a message that they say is based on years of association with America’s premier power couple. “They’re both extremely caring, very good at implementing policy, they actually take care of things. They’ve done so much, they’re really active, and they work across the aisle,” Bronfman said.

The Travelers have about 300 members. They are not always successful. Over 85 of them landed up in remote hamlets in New Hampshire for the recent primaries in the state. At present, nearly 50 of them including Bronfman, are on a hectic schedule that covers Tennessee and Arkansas, and will include at least 22 stops over four days.

Sheila Bronfman (R) while campaigning with the Arkansas Travelers (HT Photo)

The Travelers are quite confident that Hillary ought to comfortably win the Arkansas primary, part of the Super Tuesday contests on March 1. But Bronfman said, “Taking nothing for granted, we’re after every vote.”