Clinton knew it would be an uphill battle and he did not expect to win. “The only reason I ran for Congress is they couldn’t get anybody else to do it, “ Clinton said. ‘… I hadn’t planned to get into politics that early. I was sort of easing into my life, and I loved Fayetteville.” Bill made an agreement with the University of Arkansas School of Law that he would not resign form the faculty, but would only be paid for the time he was actually teaching.
Many of Clinton's friends and colleagues in Fayetteville joined his campaign.
Joining Clinton in the Democratic Primary was State Sen. Gene Rainwater, David Stewart, and Greenland Mayor Jim Scanlon.
Clinton was most worried about Stewart because he was an attractive, articulate opponent, and from Clinton’s home county.
Important to Clinton's chances was the backing of several organizations. The Political Education Committee of the Arkansas State AFL-CIO endorsed Clinton early. George Ellison, a union leader, commented that Clinton possessed, “the brightest future of anyone who has been before this convention in a long, long time.” The Arkansas Education Association also endorsed Bill, praising his position that the decisions on how to spend federal aid for education in Arkansas must be the responsibility of local school districts. The AEA also cited his support of teacher improvement and supplementary programs that contributed to improving educational excellence.
During his congressional campaign, Clinton advocated a number of plans that showed early in his political career a concern for economic and social justice: a fairer tax system, a national health insurance program, public funding of presidential elections, anti-inflation protections, an excess profits tax for the oil industry, and a strengthening of antitrust laws against the oil industry.
Bill Clinton was not afraid to criticize Congress as well as President Richard Nixon. “I think Congress has been too weak for too long, They have not been willing to take care of their own house, nor to watch the other people enough.” The other people Clinton referred to were the officials of the executive branch and, in particular, President Nixon, who had been implicated in the Watergate scandal.
“The American people, have a general feeling of helplessness about the federal bureaucracy, which is unyielding, distant, and not responsible.” He criticized his Republican opponent for his support of Nixon. “ I think its plain that the president should resign, and spare the country the agony of his impeachment and removal proceedings.”
After winning the Democratic primary in a runoff race, Clinton focused on beating Hammerschmidt and on advocating a more responsible and effective Congress. He promised to make the House, “stand up and do what it is supposed to do.” Clinton promised to “just stick to the issues,” and said he would not run a negative campaign. By contrast, Hammerschmidt assailed Clinton with accusations. He called the 27-year-old Democratic nominee, “immature” and accused him of having a “radical left wing philosophy.” He criticized Clinton for working for George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign, and claimed that Clinton’s campaign was financed largely by “labor money”.
Hammerschmidt had a strong reputation as a conservative, colorless representative who was more interested in answering constituents’’ letters than in making angry speeches.” Clinton once got so frustrated with hearing about his opponent's friendly, down-home style that he burst out, “I get sick and tired of hearing how nice Hammerschmidt is!”
Clinton also condemned Hammerschmidt voting record on education. The Republican had voted against education funding and had fought the creation of the National Education Association. Clinton called for the creation of an independent federal Department of Education. An investment in young people, he believed, would be economically productive for America. Better educated citizens, “get good jobs and pay more taxes over a lifetime than the money invested in their education.”
Clinton made a strong case for economic austerity. “We need a congressman who’s not afraid to say no to the unnecessary government spending that has hurt the economy of the country.”
During the summer of the election, the Nixon administration collapsed over the White House orchestrated cover-up of the Watergate break in. President Nixon resigned from office on August 9, 1974, rather than face almost certain impeachment and conviction. Vice President Gerald Ford was sworn in as the 38th president and one month later on Sept. 8, granted an unconditional pardon for all federal crimes Nixon committed or may have committed while president. At the time, Hillary Rodham, a successful children’s rights lawyer for the Children’s Defense Fund, was on the Nixon impeachment staff. Many observers cite this relationship as Clinton’s ideal position to determine the vulnerability of the GOP. However, most individuals could infer that the presidential authorization of what amounted to petty theft would make the public distrust the president’s organizations and associations. In a speech on September 13, 1974, to the Arkansas State Democratic Convention in Hot Springs, Clinton reacted strongly to the unprecedented turn of events and articulated a powerful message, one which he had not abandoned to this day.
As the campaign drew to a close, Clinton ran low on funds. There were overtures to him about funding during that last week but the implication was that there would be strings attached. Clinton's answer made his views clear. “Let’s just go with what we’ve got,” he said. They finished the campaign $45,000 in the red and their conscience in the clear.
Clinton came closer to defeating John Paul Hammerschmidt than anyone ever has. He earned 48.2 percent of the vote and won thirteen of twenty one counties. Despite his loss, the National Committee for an Effective Congress called Clinton's campaign, “the most impressive grass roots effort in the country.” Although he lost the election, he impressed many voters. The Arkansas Gazette commented, “It is regrettable that Arkansas did not quite ad its own extra momentum to the national Democratic landslide… In any event Bill Clinton very nearly made it to Congress and surely he will be back in 1976…” Clinton still calls his effort, "the best campaign I ever ran... just a lost cause that almost won. I just got in my 1970 Gremlin, and later I had a little Chevelle truck with Astroturf in the back. It's what I like about politics. You learn something. You hear another life story. It's like being able to peel another layer off an unlimited onion every day."