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Clark Will Announce Run for Presidency
By Jim VandeHei, Washinton Post
LITTLE ROCK, Sept. 16 -- Retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark, a prominent ex-military leader with no national political experience, has told friends and advisers that he will enter the presidential race on Wednesday, shaking up the wide-open fight for the Democratic nomination.

After months of deliberations, Clark, 58, will announce his candidacy here at a boys and girls club and immediately start challenging the nine other Democrats who have been running, with mixed success, for many months.

"I don't feel it would be too late" to enter the race and win, Clark said in a brief interview today. Clark said he has "confidence" he could quickly raise enough money and build a powerful enough political operation to eventually blow by the other candidates.

Clark's candidacy is adding even more unpredictability to what is already one of the most unsettled Democratic presidential contests in history. Clark rained on North Carolina Sen. John Edwards's entrance into the race today, as Clark's friends spread the word he would soon march into the campaign to take on Bush. Former Vermont governor Howard Dean, the frontrunner in key early states, decided to cancel a major economic address planned for Wednesday, concerned that the Clark announcement would drown it out.

"A lot of people underestimate how strong he'll be," said Joe Trippi, Dean's campaign manager.

Clark's entry comes at a point when the race is still taking shape. Despite Dean's success, many Democratic voters are undecided, and many have not yet begun to pay close attention to the race.

While a number of party strategists once considered Bush virtually unbeatable, many now feel that the weak economy and instability in Iraq make him more vulnerable than he was only a few months ago. Those around Clark think his unique résumé and his standing as a non-politician make him an ideal candidate to take on Bush.

Clark was first in his class at West Point, a Rhodes Scholar, a four-star general and commander of NATO forces in Kosovo. He is considered handsome, telegenic, smart and full of self-confidence -- too full of it, according to his critics. He's also from the South, which has produced the past three Democratic presidents.

Yet Clark has never run for political office or offered his views on domestic concerns such as the economy and unemployment, issues that often dominate presidential elections. People who worked with Clark during the Clinton administration said he alienated colleagues by appearing too controlling and ambitious, though even his critics concede those aren't necessarily bad traits for a presidential candidate.

Clark will begin to lay out his domestic agenda Wednesday, including his support for abortion rights, affirmative action, better health care coverage and tax cuts for the middle class, advisers said. In an interview with CNN yesterday, Clark suggested he will break with Dean and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), who want to repeal all of Bush's tax cuts, by backing tax cuts for "ordinary people" and reviewing the others.

Clark's associates said he will run as a moderate southern Democrat in the tradition of fellow Arkansan Bill Clinton. Clark is surrounding himself with key operatives from the Clinton-Gore White House and campaigns. Among those expected to play key roles are Eli J. Segal, a former Clinton administration official who was chairman of Clinton's 1992 campaign; Donnie Fowler, former vice president Al Gore's 2000 field director; Ron Klain, a strategist for Gore; and Mark Fabiani, a communications specialist for Clinton and Gore. Bruce Lindsey, a close Clinton friend and a lawyer in the Clinton White House. Mickey Kantor, who played a key role in the Clinton-Gore campaign and was Clinton's commerce secretary, will also be helping Clark.

"There's a lot of talent here,' " Clark said. "And [there] will be a lot in the future."

But it's unclear whether Clark can make the transition from military general to political leader. Even before Clark's official announcement, Jim Jordan, campaign manager for Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), previewed the attacks to come. "It's a strange profile for a Democratic primary: a career military with no domestic policy experience," Jordan said. Moreover, "some Democrats might find it unsettling he just decided in recent weeks to become a Democrat," he said. Clark announced he was a Democrat on Sept. 4.

But Jordan's candidate might have the most to fear from a strong Clark challenge, according to several Democratic strategists. Kerry is running as a war hero candidate, a Democrat who can challenge Bush on foreign policy because he, unlike Bush, served in combat and won several medals for his service.

With his experience in Kosovo and Bosnia and prominent role in the U.S. military, Clark, however, could steal much of Kerry's thunder, strategists said, including Trippi, Dean's campaign manager. "The guy most affected the most will be Kerry," he said.

Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) said Clark's military experience is an enormous asset, saying that Kerry and the other candidates greatly lack Clark's ability to challenge Bush's Iraq policy and "take national security off the table." In speeches and on television, Clark has been one of the most outspoken critics of Bush's Iraq policy. The veteran New York Democrat said every one of the dozen House members he's spoken with recently said they would rally around Clark.

Clark also has the potential to eat into Dean's base of support. Dean is leading in polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, the two key early contests, and raising at least twice as much as his nearest competitor in recent months. Much of Dean's support is coming from the Internet, where activists, many of whom are new to politics, are changing the terms of traditional political campaigns. Clark, too, is taking hold in cyberspace, where a "Draft Clark" movement has won pledges of at least $1.5 million.

Fabiani said three top California party fundraisers called him to pitch in. People close to Clark said he will be able to raise several million dollars right away, but it remains to be seen if he can compete with Kerry, Edwards, Dean and Gephardt, all of whom are expected to raise upwards of $20 million this year. Clark also needs to get on the ballot in key states, no easy task with deadlines fast approaching, although officials from the Draft Clark operations across the country are ready to help with that.

"His liability -- that he isn't a politician -- is his greatest asset with this Democratic electorate," said Donna Brazile, who managed Gore's campaign in 2000. "But the proof is getting on the ballot, and he'll need some old gray beards around him" to make that happen."
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