- The Washington Times - Monday, June 25, 2007


LITTLE ROCK — Arkansans warmly welcomed back Hillary Rodham Clinton this weekend in the Democrat’s first visit to her old stomping ground since becoming a White House candidate.

Voters here view her — the state’s first lady when her husband, Bill, was governor — as a native daughter and say they think electing her president would effectively give her husband another term.

Mrs. Clinton, now a U.S. senator from New York, attracted record crowds in a fundraiser for Arkansas Democrats and got a sustained ovation for her standard stump line promising to give universal health care another try.

“Arkansas runs deep in me today and always will,” Mrs. Clinton said, beaming at the close of her speech as speakers blared the pop tune “Who Says You Can’t Go Home?”

Every Democratic supporter on the Clinton Arkansas endorsement list said they can convince voters she is electable.

“She will be the next president of the United States,” Rep. Vic Snyder said, introducing her, adding: “Arkansas is in you, and we know it and we see it every day.”

Newly elected Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe lavished praise on Mrs. Clinton as someone with “a brilliance that few people can match and a heart that goes with it.”

“Senator, on behalf of almost 3 million Arkansans, welcome home,” he said.

The 30-minute speech to 4,000 people at the Alltel Arena on Saturday night was an opening salvo in Mrs. Clinton’s efforts to win over Southern voters. Arkansas, where all the state’s top elected officials are Democrats, is the bluest spot in the conservative South, and backed Mr. Clinton in both his presidential victories.

Campaign staffers say Mrs. Clinton has no intention of conceding this turf to former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, a Democratic primary rival who proclaimed recently he is the only candidate who can win in the South come November 2008.

Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, also vying for the primary nod, has made several trips to the South, and holds a slim lead in some polls from the key early state of South Carolina.

Mrs. Clinton’s operatives tout polls showing her strength in Florida and Texas. She also raised nearly $300,000 in Oklahoma earlier this month.

The Feb. 5 primary in Arkansas might get drowned out as voters in California and New York turn out for “Super Duper Tuesday,” though a win here would give Mrs. Clinton’s Southern credentials a boost.

But plenty have their doubts.

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