Hugh Had to Be There

He's inexperienced. He's hefty. He's the First Brother-in-Law. And he's coming soon to a ballot near you.

Stepping up to the microphone, Rodham musters more than enough breath to compete with the wind and the sirens of the ambulances making their way to nearby Jackson Memorial Hospital. He gives a short but rousing speech attacking Mack for his inattention to the problems plaguing Floridians -- crime, a lack of health care, and the damage caused by Hurricane Andrew. "Miami is a community that is vibrant, that is active, that is hard-working and unified behind myself to do something for the rest of the state, take the leadership roll and to show the rest of America that we are indeed vibrant," he surges, his outstretched arm causing supporters packed around him to readjust.

Though the fact seems to come as something of a revelation to those who have been jockeying for position during the past hour, it is easy to gain access to Hugh Rodham, at least at this point in the race. After his speech, the crowd slowly disperses, but Rodham, his brother Tony, and their mother Dorothy wait on the courthouse steps with a dwindling number of supporters until it's time to leave for a 7:00 p.m. dinner at Joe's Stone Crab. One of those who linger is Dade Circuit Judge S. Peter Capua, a close friend of the family, who is quick to point out that the State Supreme Court prevents him from endorsing Rodham's candidacy. "Whoa!" he says, backing away from a campaign worker trying to slap a "Rodham A U.S. Senate" sticker on his lapel. "You know I can't do that." He prefers instead to speak about the watch he's been sporting ever since visiting Camp David for a weekend. "I got it at the ship store," he says, holding up his wrist, where the watch's yellow face, complete with a presidential seal in the center, shines like a tiny sun. "Only people visiting Camp David are allowed to buy them."

Tony Rodham wears one of the watches, too. "Too bad I'm getting married -- it's great for picking up women," he jokes in one of the few light moments of what the younger Rodham brother acknowledges has been a rough day. "There were about 30 or 40 people at the rally in Tallahassee," he reports. "But they were mostly Republicans there to heckle Hughie." Among them was Republican Party Chairman Tom Slade, who will insist in a subsequent telephone interview that he attended the rally to congratulate rather than taunt the candidate. "I was the first to shake his hand and tell him that his candidacy is the best thing to happen to the Republican Party in years," Slade remembers. "By the way, it was the most amateurish political event I've witnessed in years." The party chairman recalls some shoving, but adds that it was started by Rodham's 38-year old campaign manager, Michael Copperthite.

At Joe's Stone Crab, Copperthite is certainly in no joking mood as he tries to establish some ground rules for reporting the scene at the bar. "Everything here is off the record," he says, gesturing at the bar, where Rodham and about fifteen supporters mingle with the hoity-toitier members of the hoi polloi. "If he [Rodham] has a beer, I don't want to read about it. If I read about it, your name will be mud in Washington." Rodham has a beer before making his way to a private room for a dinner with his family, close friends, and campaign workers.

The next day, during an interview at his campaign headquarters, the candidate tries to put the best face on his cloudy first outing. "You know in Indian cultures, rain is considered good luck," Rodham ventures. But he acknowledges that the day could have gone better. "I mean, if we were to believe in a spy behind every bush, you'd have to kind of question two flights in a row being canceled just because we were on them," he says, managing a chuckle. "But I'm not that suspicious. Maybe I should be." He does, however, sense a Republican conspiracy behind all the negative publicity. "It's character assassination, and it's been done all over the country," he grumbles. "I cannot and will not believe that there has been that much rapid interest in me, unless those stories are somehow being fed to the news media." His face darkens even more as he asserts that the joke is really on the overreacting Republicans. "They seem to be taking us very seriously," he says.

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