By FOX News Radio’s Eben Brown in Hope, Arkansas
One could easily miss this place if not keeping an eye out for a small sign on the side of Interstate 30 reminding you that this rusty road-stop town is also the birthplace and rearing ground of William Jefferson Clinton.
The sign is probably the only thing that would get your attention. It’s not a big neon-lighted sign, or one elevated atop a telescoping tower pole 50 feet above the off-ramp to entice you to stop at a Pilot or Love’s truckers’ rest. What’s so special about the sign? It’s not Interstate Green… It’s National Park Brown.
But alas, there are no nature trails or campsites. There are plenty of wild woodsy acres surrounding the highway and the town, but that’s just unincorporated Ozark wilderness. The National Park Service exists in Hope to tend to the lawn of the early 20th century foursquare, now gated off by wrought-iron, where a young Bill Clinton lived.
The house is in beautiful shape, with colored landscaping and adjoining visitors’ center. It stands out in this quaint country burg in which one sees weathered shack houses and trailers decorated in oxidation, but no courtyard studios or mass-produced subdivisions.
Just over ten-thousand people live in Hope. And not much happens in town. You can grab a catfish dinner at Sheba’s and get your shopping done at Walmart. And that’s about it. Now, if you need your car fixed, you can find rows of mechanics. And if you want your hair done, you can find a “beauty parlor” or two.
And that’s about it.
So, when Mike Huckabee decided he would tell the world he’d run for the White House again, it set the place abuzz. You’d think the place was used to it already, considering one President came from their street corners already.
“Going crazy,” says Charlotte Fowler. She manages the pretty-new Hampton Inn & Suites in town. Her employer also owns the Holiday Inn Express next door and the Best Western across the street.
“Everybody’s just excited. It’s bringing a lot of business to town. We are totally booked, all three hotels of ours,” she adds.
Who knew you couldn’t get a room in Hope?
“It happens every now and then during the Watermelon Festival, but not this time of year.”
Who knew Hope had a Watermelon Festival?
“He can come back anytime and book us up. That’s fine.”
And outside the hotel business, the town blinked up and down the main drag of Hervey Street with American Flags and such signage of “I Like Mike”.
Now, the axiom is true: Many of the folks in this rural setting are of a conservative and evangelical bent. You don’t need a full hand to count fans of President Obama in town. But, it seems like the love out-poured for Huckabee, a self-proclaimed social conservative and former Baptist preacher, comes from local pride more than national politics.
“Hometown spirit,” says Fowler. “Because we know him. Mike is from here. We’ve met him before. He’s from here.”
You find the same pride when you bring up the name of Bill Clinton.
“It’s sort of unbelievable,” says Hope-lifer Allison Watkins. “To be in a small town like this have two presidents hail from around here. And to kind of be the center of the news is overwhelming I guess. And exciting.”
(Both men, of course, were state governors.)
Watkins, however, has a special love for Mike Huckabee. She taught him in the eleventh grade at the local high school.
“One of the finest kids I ever had. An outstanding individual. Totally honest.”
“I love watching him on FOX because you know he’s going to say the same thing tomorrow that he said yesterday.”
(Okay, that was a gratuitous inclusion. But she did say that. And I should remind you, Mike Huckabee hosted a Saturday evening program on the FOX News Channel up until he decided he would consider another presidential run.)
Watkins feels Huckabee wouldn’t pursue the White House, jump-starting his political career with small town fanfare, unless he really felt he could win.
“This is going to be about God’s will,” she says. “And I’m not a – you know – a crazy southern Christian. I just fully believe that he would not do this if he didn’t believe this is what God wanted him to do.”
Hometown charm, Heavenly acknowledgement and familiar faces might warm the heart of the former minister. But a presidential candidate needs a bit more, in reality. Huckabee’s out of town, again. He’s off to Iowa and South Carolina where he “hopes” to fundraise.
LISTEN to FOX News Radio’s Eben Brown reporting from Hope, Arkansas: