The Comeback Kiddo

I try not to tell too many back-in-the-day stories about 1992, the most bizarre year of my life and the year I had a front-row seat as Bill Clinton became president. But now that his wife seems to be on a parallel path, particularly after her genuinely surprising victory in New Hampshire, I can’t help but tell this story.

Three days before the 1992 New Hampshire primary, I sat at the hotel bar at the Holiday Inn in downtown Manchester and got toasted with some Clinton campaign staffers. There was a reason for this: The polls said Clinton was about to get crushed in the state’s primaries. That meant Clinton’s staffers would have to go back to their think-tank day jobs, and I was going to go back to covering the state congressional delegation doing whatever the hell it was that they did. The dalliance I’d had in the last few months, when I tagged along as Bill Clinton became a rock star, looked to be over.

Two days before the New Hampshire primary, I nursed a hangover as Clinton pounded the pavement, promising to support New Hampshire residents “until the last dog dies.” There were many, many media reports that the final dog was about to be put out of its misery, and I was one of the people prepping the obituaries.

One day before the New Hampshire primary, hours after Clinton had wrapped up his last official campaign event, I got called by a staffer about 10 p.m. and told that the candidate couldn’t stand being in his hotel room any longer. A handful of reporters — as I can recall, there was me, ABC’s Mark Halperin, the New York Times’ Gwen Ifill, the AP’s John King and probably one or two other reporters — went along to a nearby bowling alley because we were suckers for pain.

Clinton bowled with us, then shook everyone’s hand in the bowling alley. He went outside and shook some more hands, and talked and talked and talked to voters. He drove his staffers crazy. There was no crew on hand to record the deed for the 11 o’clock news. Any campaign pro would have told you he was wasting his time.

Yet the next day, Clinton — who looked like a fourth-place-dead-meat finisher when I was tossing down Jack-and-waters on Saturday — finished second. He proclaimed himself the Comeback Kid. Soon, he would win the Democratic nomination…and you know the rest of the story.

Hillary Clinton has made her own comeback now. I wasn’t in New Hampshire this time — this is the second cycle in a row in which I haven’t been in the state, after making it there in ’92, ’96 and 2000 — but I recognized some echoes of the same excitement that I felt when the Comeback Kid came back.

Randy

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