Clinton Finally Visits Nebraska

ByKevin O’hanlon

K E A R N E Y, Neb., Dec. 8, 2000 -- President Clinton arrived — finally — inNebraska today, greeted by a line of dignitaries standing onthe runway of the Kearney Municipal Airport.

Twenty-five state and local officials — including RepublicanGov. Mike Johanns and Democratic Sen.-elect Ben Nelson — shook thepresident’s hand as he stepped off Air Force One. About 20spectators were at the airport.

Sen. Bob Kerrey, who flew with the president to Nebraska,stepped off the plane immediately after Clinton. Also arriving withthe president were national security adviser Sandy Berger andformer Omaha congressman Peter Hoagland.

Students Wait in Cold

Nebraska was the last state for Clinton to visit since takingoffice in 1993.

The president and Kerrey talked with members of the greetingline and posed for photographs at the airport for about 20 minutesbefore the motorcade left for the University of Nebraska atKearney.

Clinton planned to deliver a speech recapping his foreign policyachievements before an anticipated crowd of about 6,000 at theuniversity.

Thousands of college students were lined up at 5 a.m. outsidethe university’s Health and Sports Center. Doors didn’t open untilafter 7:30 a.m.

“Our feet are kind of frozen. I can’t feel them, but that’sOK,” said Joleen Wilson, 22, of Grand Island, who stood with twofriends in the cold with a blanket draped around them.

An estimated 3,000 students, nearly half the college’senrollment, requested tickets to Clinton’s speech.

Saving the Best for Last

Across the street, someone had put out a largered-white-and-blue sign covered with America flags and illuminatedby a flood light that said: “Thanks for saving the best for last — Nebraska.”

Clinton’s visit will mark the first time that a sittingpresident has stopped in Nebraska since George Bush made a briefappearance at a Republican Party campaign rally in Omaha in 1990.

After his speech, Clinton was to tour the Great Platte RiverRoad Archway Monument, which spans Interstate 80 near Kearney as atribute to the historic trails that converged in the area. TheSecret Service did not plan to close Interstate 80, yet theNebraska State Patrol was pulling over any vehicles that sloweddown to view the structure.

From Kearney, Clinton was flying to Offutt Air Force Base nearBellevue for a public appearance before attending a Democraticfund-raiser at the home of Omaha millionaire Vinod Gupta, founderof the business information company InfoUSA.

While at Offutt, Clinton was expected to speak about the factthat Nebraska is the last state that he has visited. The WhiteHouse has insisted that nothing should be made of that fact.

Kerrey vs. Clinton

Political wags have opined that it was due to aless-than-cordial relationship with Kerrey, the only Democrat inNebraska’s congressional contingent.

When Kerrey battled Clinton for the Democratic presidentialnomination in 1992, the Nebraska senator predicted that Republicanswould crush the Arkansas governor “like a soft peanut” in thegeneral election.

Kerrey was later quoted by Esquire magazine as saying,“Clinton’s an unusually good liar. Unusually good. Do you realizethat?”

On the other hand, there is little political hay to be made inthis sparsely populated but heavily Republican state.

The last Democrat to carry the state in a presidential electionwas Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Before that, it was Franklin Rooseveltin 1936.

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