Clinton network gathers in Little Rock to reminisce and plot

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas -- The sprawling Clinton network will gather here this weekend to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the former president’s library – and to look forward to the likely next presidential franchise of the Clinton enterprise.

All three Clinton family members (Bill, Hillary and Chelsea), along with hundreds of friends, former aides, donors, and supporters – not to mention a sprinkling of celebrities – are expected in the state where Bill Clinton was once governor. It’s one part alumni reunion, one part citywide festival, and one part pre-game huddle ahead of an almost certain fourth Clinton family presidential run. 

The city is hosting weeks of events and exhibitions to showcase its favorite son, from an exhibition on Hillary Clinton’s handbags to a bike tour of Bill Clinton’s favorite haunts.

The formal program kicks off Friday morning with an all-day symposium featuring major Clinton administration figures and continues Saturday with Hillary and Chelsea Clinton. In-between, once-and-possibly future Clinton staffers say there will be plenty of talk about Hillary Clinton’s future plans. 

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It’s one of two major Clinton network gatherings this month in the critical interregnum between the midterm election and the start of Clinton’s expected second presidential campaign, which is likely to come early next year. 

If the Little Rock event is colored with nostalgia for the last Clinton White House, the other event, a meeting of the largest donors to the pro-Clinton Ready for Hilary super PAC in the first family’s other home of New York City, is decidedly more focused on a future Clinton White House. That event will bring together hundreds of the group's largest donors, along with top strategists and Clinton insiders, later this month in the same hotel that hosts the annual Clinton Global Initiative.

Together, the events will help chart the course for Clinton’s first moves out of the gate next week. There will be plenty of unsolicited advice. 

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While Clintons may spend more time these days in Manhattan or Washington, Arkansas may still be there place where their presence is most felt.

To get to the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in downtown Little Rock, you fly into Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport, then head West past the Clinton School of Public Policy at the University of Arkansas, before turning onto President Clinton Avenue, which takes you past the Clinton Presidential Park and the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge. The city’s visitor bureau offers a “Billgrimage” tour for those seeking more.

The library opened under inauspicious circumstances in 2004, as a cold rain dampened the outdoor event as then-Presidents George W. Bush, his father George H.W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter huddled under umbrellas along with 30,000 onlookers.

The $165 million library, built on a formerly blighted plot of land downtown on the river, has revitalized the area. The library and museum complex has been responsible for $2.5 billion in economic development, the city’s tourism board is eager to note, and helped put Little Rock on several magazine’s list of best places to live.

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Its downtown is now filled with restaurants and bars, and the city touts that it is “home to the most LED-illuminated bridges, spanning a major body of water, in the country.”

The dedication ceremony included a performance by U2 frontman Bono, while this year’s celebration centers around a major concert Saturday night featuring pop star Nick Jonas, Kool and the Gang, "House of Cards" star Kevin Spacey and others.