- The Washington Times - Monday, September 29, 2003

Former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton may have created a force behind Wesley Clark that they will not be able to stop, political advisers from both parties told The Washington Times.

“The Clark thing has already spun out of control,” said Republican campaign consultant Bob Heckman.

Those who spoke with The Times say Mr. Clark’s presidential candidacy was endorsed to further the ambitions of Mrs. Clinton and claimed to see evidence that Mr. Clark got into the Democratic presidential race with at least an implicit understanding that he would settle for running as the senator’s vice-presidential candidate, if and when she is ready to get into the race.

“He could become a very credible candidate, and forget whatever plan the Clintons had for him,” Mr. Heckman said. “There isn’t a politician I ever met who doesn’t think he deserves to be where he is.”

California-based Democratic strategist Gail Kaufman agreed.

“It took Clark so long to get in the race, and then he shoots to the top of the heap. Now, if you’re the Clintons, how … do you get him to quit?”

She noted that the soldier-turned-politician got into the contest with the public blessing of Mr. Clinton and with former top Clinton aides on his campaign team. Already top Clinton fund-raisers in New York are raising contributions for the former NATO command leader.

Meanwhile, a recent Gallup-USA Today poll shows Mr. Clark, a retired four-star general from the Clintons’ home state of Arkansas, narrowly leading President Bush and ahead of the other nine Democratic nomination contenders, even though Mr. Clark had entered the Democratic contest less than two weeks ago.

Some political observers see in the poll results evidence that Mr. Clark is advancing Mrs. Clinton’s interests by showing that none of the other Democratic candidates has much support and that perhaps only Mrs. Clinton offers the hope of beating President Bush next year, said former Reagan White House Political Director Frank J. Donatelli.

Mr. Donatelli said Mr. Clark’s entrance may have proved to the Clintons that none of the nine previous candidates had the deep support needed to beat Mr. Bush.

“[I]n getting Clark to run, Bill Clinton could have had in mind creating an acceptable vice president to run with Hillary,” said Mr. Donatelli. “Whether Clark will have that in mind is something else.

“Even more pointed an indicator is the new Gallup poll, which for the first time shows signs of some vulnerability for President Bush. And if she gets into the race, they have concluded she has real chance to win in 2004 — though I still think Bush has the edge.”

“Clark would make the perfect running mate for Hillary — he has all the national security credentials she doesn’t have,” said Joe Cerrell, a California Democratic campaign consultant. But Mr. Cerrell said he could see Mr. Clark rebelling against any prior agreement and saying, “Why are you telling me I should get out. I’m the one leading in the polls.”

As for Mrs. Clinton’s entering the race, Republican presidential campaign adviser Charley Black said if the senator wants to enter the race, she will have to start campaigning now in order to build an organization and a war chest. Most agree that Mrs. Clinton, with her husband’s help, would be the only candidate with a chance of competing with Mr. Bush in fund raising — even if she starts late.

But Mr. Black thinks it’s almost too late for Mrs. Clinton to start. Mrs. Kaufman disagreed.

“How long does Hillary have?” Mrs. Kaufman asked. “With her notoriety, name ID and political apparatus, I think she can wait till after Iowa,” Mrs. Kaufman joked, referring to the first Democratic caucus in January.

“Actually, I think she could wait awhile and still get in,” Mrs. Kaufman said. “The only people she is going to anger are the other candidates. The voters don’t obviously care — I mean, if Clark can jump in and immediately be ahead of the others.”

Mr. Cerrell agreed that “it’s not too late for her to run. She’s better known nationally at this stage than her husband was when he ran against [the elder] Bush.”

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