There may never be another Sunday afternoon senior citizens’ picnic quite like this one.
President Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., each protesting that he’s certainly not electioneering, are expected to descend on the town of Claremont (population 14,000), just over the New Hampshire border from Vermont.
Claremont’s Earl Borden Senior Center had long planned the summer outing for about 200 members and guests. Then the president decided to come, and after dares and doubledares tossed at each other through the press for the past two days, Gingrich agreed to join him.
Tagging along will be busloads of journalists salivating for what could be the best political drama of the year in the early primary state that traditionally launches or sinks presidential hopefuls.
Not only does the event pair the president with his arch political antagonist, but the White House expects topic A to be the controversial Republican plans to restrain Medicare.
White House press secretary Michael McCurry Saturday called the picnic a “perfect event” to discuss issues and welcomed Gingrich.
“They could have a lot of fun out in the back yard talking to the old folks,” McCurry said.
Clinton and Gingrich are expected to make a few remarks and then invite questions from the picnickers. Those attending will be from both parties and were selected by the senior citizens’ center, said a White House spokeswoman.
Arrangements for the joint appearance began with what seemed to be an off-hand answer tossed off by Clinton.
In an interview with a New Hampshire’s Concord Monitor on Thursday, Clinton was asked what sights he might show Gingrich in the Granite State. The president joked about a tour including a trip to a Dunkin’ Donuts.
Gingrich decided to pick up on the offer and run with it.
The White House offered the picnic setting, but the speaker wanted to invite more participants and a moderator.
But the White House held the line, insisting that nothing be changed except the addition of Gingrich.
The president does not want to use the New Hampshire residents “for some huge theatrical production that would be more befitting October of 1996,” allowed McCurry.
But that is exactly what is anticipated.
xxxx Rules of the game Newt Gingrich and President Clinton will each have five minutes to speak at today’s New Hampshire picnic, and then take questions from the 200 seniors attending the event. The event is scheduled to last 45 minutes. Cable News Network said it would televise the event beginning at 1 p.m. PDT.