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As final countdown to Clinton Library ends, side exhibits open

Footwear and "FOBs" (friends of Bill) are just some of the topics in these provocative new exhibits
A worker, top left, changes the days-remaining sign on the roof of the Clinton Presidential Library to read \"9 Days to Open\", Nov. 8, 2004, in Little Rock, Ark.
A worker, top left, changes the days-remaining sign on the roof of the Clinton Presidential Library to read "9 Days to Open", Nov. 8, 2004, in Little Rock, Ark.Danny Johnston / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The founder of Wal-Mart was willing to support Bill Clinton's run for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination—but not his effort to unseat Republican President George H. Bush— according to a letter never before released to the public.

The letter from Sam Walton, founder and chairman of Bentonville-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc., who died in 1995, is included in an exhibit dedicated to the famous “Friends of Bill”—or “FOBs”— as the city prepares for the Nov. 18 opening of the Clinton Presidential Library.

“My personal position, as Bill knows, is that I will support him every way possible in his campaign to become the Democratic nominee for President of the U.S., but I would vote for George Bush and the Republican Party if it were a runoff between those two,” Walton wrote Nov. 4, 1991.

If the shoe fits...

When Clinton was elected president a year later, his Arkansas friends may have felt he had big shoes to fill. But as an exhibit in the Statehouse Convention Center shows, only one of his predecessors needed bigger footwear than Clinton.

Nashville shoemaker Johnston & Murphy has made shoes for every U.S. president since Millard Fillmore in the 1850s, and Abraham Lincoln's size 14 is the only pair larger than Clinton's size 13C. A replica of Lincoln's ankle boot is on display, along with copies made at the same time as the originals for nine other presidents.

Clinton's shoe arrived Wednesday, the company said. Its traveling exhibit also includes two originals: Warren G. Harding's Victorian spats and Lyndon B. Johnson's black leather slip-ons.

Campaign memorabilia

A sign atop the library that has counted down the days to the opening from 366 is finally down to single digits. But as the shoe and FOB exhibits show, Clinton fans don't have to wait even one day for presidential sights.

The FOB treasures are on display at historic Curran Hall. Skip Rutherford, president of Clinton's nonprofit foundation, provided the Walton letter. In it, Walton says Clinton, Arkansas governor at the time, had been “instrumental in helping us initiate our very effective Buy American campaign.”

Rutherford also recently dug up some scraps of yellow notebook paper that he'd used to help Clinton's boyhood friend Mac McLarty make it through his first national telephone interview as White House chief of staff.

The notes tick off clear talking points for McLarty: “1. Praise Clinton; 2. I like people; 3. Team approach; 4. Like to delegate; 5. Positively influenced by both (Sens.) David Pryor and Dale Bumpers.”

Other items were contributed by 1992 campaign adviser Carol Willis, Clinton's gubernatorial secretary Lynda Dixon, Arkansas Travelers organizer Sheila Bronfman, Clinton Foundation executive director Stephanie Streett, Paragould lawyer Harry Truman Moore and Jimmie Lou Fisher, the former state treasurer who introduced Clinton as a presidential candidate.

Reminiscing over the photos, campaign buttons and notes inspired Rutherford to tell another story about McLarty. He was such an unknown that the media had no idea he would be chief of staff even as they arrived for the official announcement.

But one lucky reporter got a bead on the story when McLarty's ailing mother Helen showed up to the news conference unannounced and said proudly, “I'm here to see my son named White House chief of staff.” Rutherford said the reporter ran into the restroom with an early-model cellphone to call editors with the news.