Recruiting Bill Clinton

After going back and forth about whether to run for a fifth term as governor, he was scheduled to make an announcement on March 3. Craig Smith, Clinton’s aide who often traveled with him on DLC trips, called me in the middle of Clinton’s announcement speech to tell me Clinton was not running for reelection. He called me back a few minutes later and said he was indeed running. “He talked himself into running in the middle of his speech,” Craig told me.

After months of pondering, Clinton decided to run for reelection as governor and become chairman of the DLC. Nearly a year after our Little Rock meeting, at the DLC’s Annual Conference in New Orleans on March 24, 1990, Bill Clinton became the DLC’s fourth chairman. Calling Clinton a “rising star in three decades,” Sam Nunn passed him the gavel. Nunn quipped that when the DLC was created “we were viewed as a rump group. Now we’re viewed as the brains of the party. In just five years, we’ve moved from one end of the donkey to the other.”

Under Bill Clinton’s leadership, the DLC would cement that image and redefine the Democratic Party along the way.

This post is adapted from The New Democrats and the Return to Power

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Al From is the founder and former CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council.

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