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Can Clinton Be a Hog and Not Be a Hog?

March 29, 1994|PAUL RICHTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — President Clinton is discovering that indulging his passion for the University of Arkansas basketball team requires some of the same delicacy as international diplomacy.

Clinton has proclaimed his desire to see his beloved Razorbacks in the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. Final Four tournament that wraps up Monday with a game in Charlotte, N.C.

But the appearance of a President with his Air Force One entourage and huge security detail has the potential to delay, inconvenience or even displace a lot of other basketball fans--and possibly sour some of the positive publicity that his ardent interest in his alma mater's Hogs has been winning for him lately.

Clinton's appearance at the Arkansas-Michigan game in Dallas last Saturday excited a lot of fans but caused some grumbling from those who had to stand in line as the Secret Service checked them for weapons.

As a result, the White House has been doing everything it can to see that the First Fan does not intrude any more than necessary when he heads for the tournament Saturday after his weeklong sojourn in San Diego.

After his appearance at the Arkansas-Michigan game, Clinton decided to call off a postgame trip to the two teams' locker rooms to avoid a massive traffic tie-up at an arena that exits from only one driveway. Instead, he walked out on the court after the game to congratulate the teams and coaches, then left ahead of most of the traffic.

Clinton aides inquired in advance about tickets for the Charlotte event to make sure that giving the Clinton party seats would not deprive someone else of the chance to see the game. They were told that the tickets had already been set aside on the chance that Clinton might want to come.

And aides said that the President is planning to leave Charlotte for Washington immediately after Saturday's game so that the presidential party will not need hotel rooms in a city that is booked to capacity. Some fans are driving to the arena from hotels 100 miles away.

NCAA officials, delighted with the publicity Clinton's interest is generating, praised his cooperativeness. But they said they are worried that he might decide to stay on Saturday or after the Monday finals, forcing them to displace some fans with reserved hotel rooms.

"That could create significant problems for us," said David Cawood, an NCAA assistant executive director. "There's not a hotel room left in the city."

Some Final Four fans, of course, are likely to be unhappy in any case.

The Secret Service's screening held up some people for as much as 45 minutes Saturday. Some fans may believe that the 30 seats set aside for Clinton in Dallas and the 35 the party will get in Charlotte could have gone to less-privileged fans.

And, even if the presidential party does not stay overnight, there is the cost of running the presidential party down to Charlotte on an aircraft that, according to a congressional panel, costs $40,243 an hour to operate.

Aides are talking about pairing his Monday trip with an event to promote health care reform, which would help justify the Southern swing.

But clearly, the biggest public relations problem is posed by the chance that the presidential party would decide to stay overnight.

Cawood, considering that possibility, mused: "There aren't any big world crises going to happen on Tuesday, are there?"

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