LITTLE ROCK, ARK.
DIGGING through the shoes at the Goodwill store a few blocks from the capitol, the senior citizen refused to speak to a reporter about Bill Clinton.
"No way," she snapped. "We've got a good governor and that's all."
Many Arkansans are similarly angry at the press for trumpeting Gennifer Flowers's allegations of a 12-year affair with Governor Clinton. His quest for the presidency - even if it fails - had been expected to call the nation's attention to how far Arkansas has come under the guidance of the nation's longest-serving governor, explains Robert Steel, news director at KARK-TV.
Instead, he says, the scandalmongering reinforces the inferiority complex the state has nursed since 1957, when the National Guard was called out to integrate Central High.
Little Rock station KATV announced last Wednesday that in polls of state voters, 98 percent had heard of Flowers's allegations, 84 percent believed Clinton should stay in the race, and 78 percent still preferred Clinton over other Democratic candidates.
If the election had been held Wednesday, Clinton would have received 47 percent of the Arkansas vote to 36 percent for Bush. Meanwhile, 54 percent thought media coverage of Clinton had been unfair, and 75 percent said the media shouldn't probe candidates' personal lives.
Flowers's story was quickly found to contain so many false, though extraneous, details that many Arkansans disbelieve the core.
There's universal skepticism here that an affair could have lasted a dozen years without everyone in the state knowing about it. "In Arkansas?" scoffs Clinton campaign worker Diane Blair.
"It would be very difficult to keep it secret," agrees Mr. Steel, whose station once employed Flowers.
ve had this tip a hundred times," Steel adds. "You always hear it before an election." But until the Star paid Flowers a reported six-figure fee, no one has gone on the record.
Still, questions remain for some Arkansans. An editorial by John Brummett in the Democrat-Gazzette claims that unnamed "Little Rock insiders" confirm the rumors of infidelity.
On CBS's "60 Minutes" program, Clinton told the nation that he had caused pain in his marriage, but did not state how.
"This is a hard thing for people to bear," says Falba Lively, who is cousin to Clinton's mother and a resident of Hope, the southwest Arkansas town where the governor was born.
"It's heartbreaking whether it's true or not," Mrs. Lively says. "My heart goes out to Hillary," Clinton's wife.
At Immanuel Baptist Church, where Clinton sings in the choir and has played saxophone at the candlelight Christmas Eve service, a prayer was offered for the governor at the Wednesday evening service.
If he did have an affair, that's between him, Hillary, and God, says congregation member Staci Guthrie. "What I can do to support him is pray."
Adds her husband, Eric: "We're all probably convinced that something happened. But it's not our business." He and many others are tired of the media picking on Clinton. "The press has gone too far once again," Mr. Guthrie says.
David Parkinson, a shoe salesman at Sears, Roebuck & Co. in North Little Rock, recalls that as a Boy Scout he carried a banner in a parade with Clinton.
"I don't think [rumored affairs] have anything to do with how [Clinton] does his job," he says.
Donna, a clerk at General Nutrition Center who didn't want to give her last name, has a son who attends school with Clinton's daughter, Chelsea. Donna has seen Clinton's active involvement in school activities. "He obviously cares," she says approvingly. As to peccadilloes, "I just didn't want to think it of him."
One novel take on Flowers's allegation is that of Lisa Graham, a sales clerk at Jaccard's jewelry store.
"If he's had an affair with her for 12 years, then it's been all through his term as governor, and he's been an excellent governor."
Darrell Jones, who attends a very conservative church in the northwest Arkansas community of Jasper, says the idea of adultery bothers him. "I don't believe in that. I'm trying to separate the politician from the man," he adds. "It's hard to do."