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Jewish World Review Sept. 26, 2003 / 29 Elul, 5763

Roger Simon

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Grab a little gusto? | LITTLE ROCK — Wesley Clark is a resume candidate with essentially only one item on his resume: He served in the Army for 34 years, retiring as a four-star general.

Is that enough to get him to the Oval Office? To some Democrats, it is more than enough.

Smarting under the accusation that the Democrats have become the Mommy Party, concerned with such "soft " issues as education, health care and the environment, while the Republicans are the Daddy Party concerned with such "hard" issues as national defense, terrorism and crime, some now feel that Clark provides the party with the macho needed to stand up to President Bush next fall no matter how many aircraft carriers he lands on.

But Clark has to eliminate nine other Democratic contenders before he can get there, all of whom have been running for months. Clark has no political experience, has never served a day in public office and is still assembling his campaign staff.

Clark does, however, start out with something refreshing in a presidential candidate: at least a small amount of humility. On the day before his announcement Clark admitted he doesn't yet know everything there is to know. "I'll do my best, but there will be a lot of things that I don't know right away," Clark said. "I want to learn. I've got a whole period of time. I've got to go around America. I want to talk to people about the issues."

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In fact, however, Clark has very little time. Too little time, probably, to effectively compete in the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 19 and possibly too little time to do much in the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 27. Clark — and a host of other Democrats — are eyeing the "third wave" primaries on Feb. 3 that include South Carolina, Oklahoma and Arizona.

But if front-running former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean wins Iowa and New Hampshire, and he currently is doing well in the polls in both states, he may be hard for Clark or anyone else to stop.

Although not all Clark's positions are known — including to Clark — he appears to be a pro-affirmative action, pro-abortion rights liberal much like Dean. And, in fact, Dean initially welcomed him into the race.

"It is a good thing for us to have Wes Clark," Dean said. "I have four people beating up on me for being against the war. Now I have a four-star general saying the same thing I've been saying."

Not quite.

Hours after his announcement, Clark, who has been attacking Bush vigorously over the Iraq war for months, was telling reporters that he probably would have voted to authorize Bush to go to war in Iraq.

Further, Clark said, his views were closer to the four Democrats in the race who had voted for the war resolution — Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri and Senators Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina — than to those of Dean.

Later, Clark took it all back saying: "Let's make one thing clear, I would never have voted for this war."

Then he managed to confuse things further by adding: "I would have voted for the right kind of leverage to get a diplomatic solution, an international solution to the challenge of Saddam Hussein."

Whatever that might mean.

And even though some thought Clark had gotten off on the wrong foot by muddying his message on the war, Clark told me he was enjoying himself. "I love it," he said of his first days on the campaign trail. "The reason I came into this is that people asked me to. But it's also an obligation and I am really privileged and I will do the best I can."

Asked for the first three things he would do as president, Clark answered with more enthusiasm than strict mathematical skill: "Work the foreign policy issue and the war on terrorism, reinvigorate the economy and provide new jobs, set in motion the kinds of programs that address urgent domestic needs and reduce the deficit."

Donnie Fowler, a leading candidate to become Clark's campaign manager, said the Clark campaign strategy would be two-fold: "First, he's a winner, he can win the election," Fowler said. "And second, he will provide security, but all kinds of security: national security, job security, security from terrorism at home and abroad."

But how is Clark going to sell himself to the American people?

"We're going to do this in non-conventional ways," Fowler said. "He's not a politician. A conventional politician parks in Iowa for 45 days, parks in New Hampshire for 45 days and raises money for 30 days. We're not going to go to Iowa and New Hampshire and park there."

The campaign intends to win, it appears, largely on the inspirational ability and likability of its candidate.

This guy is not your average candidate with your average message," Fowler says. "He easily gets over the Budweiser Threshold: Do you want to have a beer with him?"

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