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CAMPAIGN '96

President at Play Is Busy in Wyoming

Vacation: Clinton golfs, signs a bill, hikes, works on a speech, takes in a movie during an active eight days alongside the Grand Tetons.

August 17, 1996|SHERYL STOLBERG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JACKSON, Wyo. — Out here in moose country, where seldom is heard a discouraging word, Bill Clinton can lay claim to a new title. No longer is he merely president of the United States, commander in chief, leader of the free world.

He is, by judgment of the locals, "first golfer."

No matter that his driver shattered during a practice swing Friday. "I've never seen anything like it. . . . Amazing," he reportedly said.

No matter that his thighs were sore from a four-hour downhill hike in nearby Yellowstone National Park earlier in the week. "We saw some bear scat," the first hiker declared afterward. Or that the soreness affected his play on the links. "My rhythm wasn't quite there anymore," he confessed.

This was a week for the president to play and he worked hard at it.

With its picture-postcard golf links and rugged hiking trails, the breathtaking Jackson Hole valley at the base of the Grand Tetons provided the perfect photo-op backdrop for a president at rest--especially while Bob Dole and the Republicans were toiling away at their convention in San Diego.

But the Wyoming vacation ends today. After an eight-day stay at an 800-acre spread called the Bar B Bar Ranch, the slightly sunburned Clinton and his family plan to head back to Washington before jetting off to New York on Sunday for the president's 50th birthday bash at Radio City Music Hall.

*

The presidential respite--described by Deputy Press Secretary Mary Ellen Glynn as "a good mental break" for Clinton--was scheduled for a week when headlines were bound to be dominated by Dole and the GOP. The official line from the White House was that the president was having too much fun playing golf to pay much attention to the Republican convention.

"I didn't watch it. I haven't watched any of it," the first golfer told reporters on the course Friday morning. The accepted wisdom of the jaded White House press corps, of course, was that he didn't need to--he had plenty of advisors to watch it for him or to videotape it.

The president did manage to make a little news of his own, however. He broke the best-kept secret in publishing since "Primary Colors" when Random House announced that he had written a book.

"Between Hope and History: Meeting America's Challenges for the 21st Century" will hit the bookstores next week, just in time for the Democratic convention in Chicago. "I finished it the first two days we got here," the first author told reporters during a horseback ride Wednesday.

That was the big news but there were other tidbits--just enough to keep Clinton peripherally in view. On Monday, Clinton went to a Yellowstone meadow to announce a deal that will prevent a Canadian company from mining for gold near the national park. On Tuesday, he visited an outdoor science school, where he signed a bill to simplify the royalty payments that the oil and gas industry makes to the government.

*

On Wednesday, he said that he just wanted to "sleep in and laze around." That was the day the book deal was announced. On Thursday, he made a few minor appointments to commissions. On Friday, he assigned Commerce Undersecretary Stuart Eizenstadt to a mission to promote democracy in Cuba.

Clinton also worked a bit on his acceptance speech for the Democratic convention and planned for next week's activities, including the signing of two important bills, one that will raise the minimum wage and another that will permit workers who change jobs to keep their health insurance.

But mostly what the president did was play.

He spent the better part of three days on the golf course, including one game with a USA Today reporter. He took First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and daughter Chelsea out to pizza and the movies. They saw "A Time to Kill."

He had a "pre-birthday party" at the home of World Bank President James Wolfensohn. The president dragged his top aides and the press pool on a grueling hike through Yellowstone, insisting on taking an 8.3-mile trail instead of a shorter, three-mile trek.

The nearly four-hour hike dropped 2,200 feet, past boiling mud pools and dramatic views of a deep gorge. The following day, when the entourage was blistered and sore, Clinton apologized to the television cameraman who had to drag heavy gear down the mountainside:

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