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Preparing for Clinton

Preparations are being made for the planned visit by Bill Clinton, whose October visit to Mitchell won't be the city's first brush with a president. Several future presidents have campaigned here over the past century, although Clinton's visit ma...

Preparations are being made for the planned visit by Bill Clinton, whose October visit to Mitchell won't be the city's first brush with a president.

Several future presidents have campaigned here over the past century, although Clinton's visit may be the first time an ex-president has come to Mitchell.

Clinton will be the keynote speaker for the dedication of the George and Eleanor McGovern Library and Center for Leadership and Public Service on Saturday, Oct. 7. Lori Essig, vice president for university relations at DWU, said she now expects much larger crowds and more security since Clinton confirmed he will attend.

"The main difference is now we expect many more people," she said. "We have to think about remote parking and busing people in to the event."

Essig said she also plans on renting more chairs, ordering more food and dealing with more media requests. One thing she has spent very little time worrying about so far is security.

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"I asked about security and I was told not to get too carried away. I thought that was kind of funny," she said. "(Clinton's staff) said don't do anything differently. Do what you would do if President Clinton wasn't coming."

She said an advance team will be sent to Mitchell to create a security strategy.

"My fear is that the advance team will come a week before and we will need to make last-minute changes," she said. "It could throw a wrench into things."

Essig said she has mentioned the event to Mitchell Public Safety Chief Lyndon Overweg, but that she has no real details to help them prepare.

Overweg said he and Essig "have visited briefly, but there is a lot more in-depth coming."

He added that Clinton's planned visit "just means that more than likely, we will be working with other agencies."

That would be nothing new to Overweg.

"We've worked with Secret Service and had all kinds of dignitaries come to town before," he said. "It takes a lot of meetings just to make sure everyone is on the same page."

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Don Carr, communications director for the state Democratic Party, said many people from his Pierre office will attend, but they are not currently planning any special events.

"This is really Sen. McGovern's, Dakota Wesleyan's and the library's event, but any help that they might need, we will be there to assist," he said.

He added that there will obviously be a bigger draw by party members to attend the event, but it was important not to usurp McGovern and the library dedication.

"I think it is extremely important that we honor Sen. McGovern," he said. "I think it is a big event for South Dakota."

Details of Clinton's visit to Mitchell -- including his length of stay, other events he might attend or appearances he might make -- are not known at this time. Attempts this week to reach Clinton's representatives in New York were not successful.

It may be the first time an ex-president has visited Mitchell, but Mitchell still has had several future presidents -- and possibly one sitting president -- pass through.

Ninety-eight years have passed since William Taft, William Jennings Bryan and Eugene Chafin all came to Mitchell on three consecutive days stumping for the office of president during the 1908 Corn Palace Festival.

They came by train and Taft spoke from outside the Omaha Depot, now the site of CorTrust Bank on Main Street.

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A photo of Jennings Bryan, a three-time presidential nominee for the Democratic Party, shows him riding in a buggy outside the Corn Palace surrounded by crowds.

Mitchell Historical Society member Lyle Swenson said he has seen a photo of a visit to Mitchell by President Harry Truman, but cannot determine the date of the photo. The photo shows Truman stepping off his plane at the airport. If the visit was during his 1948 presidential campaign, that would make Truman the only sitting president to have ever visited Mitchell.

In 1960, McGovern's influence in Congress paid off for Mitchell residents wanting a glimpse of high-profile presidential nominee John F. Kennedy. A story in The Daily Republic said 5,000 people packed the Corn Palace while another 1,500 stood outside just to hear Kennedy speak.

Eight years later, his younger brother would make the same stop on his ill-fated campaign tour and would also speak at the Corn Palace. He was shot and killed before the election.

In 1988, George Bush Sr., then vice president and Republican Party nominee for president, visited Mitchell.

Swenson, a former sheriff, said he remembers setting up for Bush's visit as they turned the Mitchell Police Station into Bush's moving office.

"The chief (of police) was kicked out of his office so (Bush) would have an office," Swenson said. "Then we had cars set up on the north side of the Corn Palace and then some on the south side of the building for a getaway."

Vice President Al Gore came to Mitchell in 1998 when he visited Spencer following a devastating tornado that destroyed much of that town.

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