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Clinton Still Enjoys Goodwill at Bus Stop : Illinois: It seemed like the entire town of Sandoval had lined the highway for the campaign bus tour that summer of '92. Clinton ordered the convoy to stop so he could speak. Two years later, the President's supporters are easy to find, but Clinton-haters are not.

October 02, 1994|MITCHELL LANDSBERG | ASSOCIATED PRESS

SANDOVAL, Ill. — To read some newspapers, watch some television shows or listen to certain radio hosts, you could get the idea that there are people across America who hate President Clinton.

And there are. You'd just be hard pressed to find them here.

At first blush, little Sandoval--1,535 people huddled against a sea of corn stalks--would seem a good place to tap into the groundswell of anti-Clinton feeling that seemed to rumble around the country this summer.

People here hold to traditional values. They're Democrats, but conservative, in a small-town, Harry-Truman kind of way.

A lot of them lined the highway in 1992 when the Democratic campaign bus tour breezed through--so many, in fact, that Clinton ordered the buses to stop so he could get out and speak.

He promised change. People believed him.

Do they feel betrayed now?

It seems a reasonable question to ask because there are people elsewhere who clearly feel a deep, personal loathing for the President--a sense of betrayal if they voted for him, just plain anger if they didn't.

Oh, there are plenty of people who support him--the President's approval ratings have stayed pretty close to the 43% of the electorate that voted him into office. But you don't have to go far to hear the others.

Every once in a while, a President comes along who, if he was a piece of gym equipment, would be the heavy bag. Franklin Roosevelt was one, if you were conservative. Richard Nixon was one, if you were liberal.

And Bill Clinton is one, if you believe what you hear and read.

But not in Sandoval.

Not at the Double D Hair Salon, where either Darrena or Darlene--it isn't clear which, she wouldn't say--looks up from washing hair clips and says, "I just think he's great."

Not at the Sandoval House Restaurant, where waitress Doris Lyons looks a bit dreamy when she describes how the President talks: "He's got a nice, soft voice. He's easy to listen to."

Not at Whitie's Barber Shop, where proprietor Steve Gregory whips out two Clinton-Gore campaign buttons from the wooden cabinet where he stores the combs and hair goop. "I think he's doing a great job," Gregory says.

The mayor, Gary Deadmond, likes Clinton. "Bill Clinton said he stood for change, and he is trying to change things," Deadmond says. "With all the problems in Congress, he's having a hard time."

In Sandoval, you will find people who are disappointed in Clinton, who strongly disagree with him, who even dislike him.

But the sort of person who would believe Jerry Falwell when he all but accuses the President of murder? The sort of person who would own a popular bumper sticker that says: "Smoke dope, dodge draft, cheat wife, become President. . . . The new American Way!"

Not here.

Bill Resch owns the local video store, a little cottage with white aluminum siding and a gravel parking lot. He voted for Clinton and has lived to regret it. "I've joined forces with those who think he's turned out to be a weak President. He's real wishy-washy."

Resch leans on the counter, a small, muscular man with sweptback bristles of red hair shading to gray. And he voices some complaints about Clinton that are common here, even among the President's most ardent supporters.

"After all the things he said he was going to do, the first thing he came out with was gay rights," Resch says, referring to Clinton's gays-in-the-military policy. "With all the problems we have, that just really turned me off. And his foreign policy--he doesn't have a foreign policy."

But Resch expresses something else that's common here. He trusts Clinton, he says, and believes he means well. He isn't bothered in the least by Clinton's Whitewater investments or by the stories about the President's supposed extramarital affairs.

"I'm down on the press for that," he says. "It just seems like any subject, they go to extremes. . . . It seems like once they got a guy down, they just keep stomping on him."

A customer comes in. Scott Magnus is a big, dark-bearded, 34-year-old grain farmer who voted for Bush, likes Rush Limbaugh and doesn't think much of Clinton's politics.

Still, he says, "I really, truly believe that in most of what he does, Clinton means well."

So he doesn't hate Clinton? "I don't hate anybody," Magnus says.

It's a friendly place, Sandoval.

On the evening of July 21, 1992, the Clinton campaign came rolling up Highway 51, the road that nicks the edge of Sandoval on its way from Centralia to Vandalia. Those are the big towns around here, where many people in Sandoval drive to work. There aren't a lot of jobs in Sandoval.

What there were a lot of, at least on that night, were supporters of Bill Clinton and Al Gore.

The estimates range from 300 to 1,000--it doesn't much matter which is right. The point is that what seemed like the entire town was stretched out along the highway, everybody waving American flags and Clinton-Gore banners, singing patriotic songs, cheering in the warm Midwest night.

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