|LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- Lining up his troops, retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark summoned advisers from across the country for a home-state strategy session on how to mount a late-starting Democratic presidential campaign.
The small group of legal, financial and political strategists were invited to a Tuesday meeting in Little Rock after being told Clark was ready to seek the presidency. One of the invitees, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he was told it was "a 99 percent certainty" that Clark would run, but the retired general wanted to finalize his thinking at Tuesday's session.
Others said Clark's office left little doubt: Barring an unexpected change of heart, he will become the 10th Democrat seeking to bounce President Bush from office.
"We haven't been told for sure, but I think we know what this is about," said George Bruno, a New Hampshire activist who was to attend the meeting. "It's up to the boss to call the shots."
Among those invited to the meeting, officials said, were: Mark Fabiani, former spokesman for the Clinton White House; Ron Klain, a strategist in Al Gore's 2000 campaign; Washington lawyer Bill Oldaker; Vanessa Weaver, a Clinton appointee; and Skip Rutherford, a Clinton fund-raiser who lives here. Bruce Lindsey, former White House aide and now an Arkansas lawyer, also backs Clark.
A top Democratic organizer — another veteran of the Clinton-Gore political team — said he flew to Arkansas for the talks after being told Clark was virtually certain to run. He spoke on condition of anonymity.
Clinton has urged Clark to run, but associates say he will not take sides in the primary fight.
Clark, 58, believes his four-star military service would counter Bush's political advantage as a wartime commander in chief, friends say. The retired general has been critical of the Iraq war and Bush's postwar efforts, positions that would put him alongside announced candidates Howard Dean, Sen. Bob Graham of Florida and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio as the most vocal anti-war candidates.
It would be a long-shot bid.
Just four months before voting begins, Clark would be competing against candidates who have had months to raise money, build organizations in key states and recruit the party's top political talent.
But the strategists assembled in Little Rock on Tuesday are among the party's best. An Internet-fueled draft-Clark movement has developed the seeds of a campaign organization and more than $1 million in pledges.
Clark's resume is formidable — Rhodes scholar, first in his 1966 class at West Point, White House fellow, head of the U.S. Southern Command and NATO commander during the 1999 campaign in Kosovo.
Clark's local office said no announcement was planned for Monday or Tuesday but it was noncommittal about the rest of the week as supporters anxiously awaited his decision.
Nearly 12 years after Clinton announced his first campaign, Arkansans were excited at the prospect of backing another favorite son.
"He almost has to (run) in light of everything that's happened," said Little Rock lawyer Phillip McMath, a friend of Clark's since ninth grade. "He seems to be campaigning and getting his ducks in a row."
Jean Wallace, a classmate of Clark's from grammar school, has organized Warriors for Wes, a group of Clark classmates named after the mascot at their alma mater, Hall High School. She said the supporters were ready to travel the country to tout Clark's candidacy the way "Friends of Bill" organizations crisscrossed the country campaigning for Clinton.
"We are eagerly awaiting an announcement very shortly. There are thousands of people across the country doing the same thing, people who have put their hearts and time and resources into this effort," Jeff Dailey, spokesman for Draft Clark for President 2004, said.
The group, one of several Draft Clark groups, boasts of 166 coordinators in 50 states.
"In New Hampshire, there are many people ready to move out if they're given the green light," said Bruno, one of Clinton's earlier backers in the key primary voting state.
Clark is scheduled to deliver a speech at the University of Iowa on Sept. 19 but is expected to make his decision before that.