- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 14, 2004

MADISON, Wis. — Former Democratic presidential hopeful Wesley Clark, who won only the Oklahoma primary before dropping out of the race, yesterday endorsed John Kerry, who said he was braced for the beginning of the political attack season.

Mr. Clark promised to help. “I’ll do everything I can when the Republican mean machine cranks up their attacks,” he said.

Mr. Kerry said he is expecting early and frequent attacks from Republicans, and that his record and character will stand the test. He told host Don Imus of the call-in interview radio show “Imus in the Morning” that he knows “exactly where these guys are going to go and I’m ready for it.”

He told Mr. Imus that there was nothing to the gossip that he had had an inappropriate relationship with a young woman not his wife and that she had been encouraged to leave the United States. The story, first reported on the “Drudge Report” Internet site and later in London newspapers, had not otherwise been widely reported in the United States.

“Well, there is nothing to report,” Mr. Kerry told the interviewer. “So there is nothing to talk about. I’m not worried about it. No.

“I’ve been at this for a while, Don, and I’ve been through some tough races. I’ve been pretty well, you know, vetted and examined from one side to the other. And I think that they’re in for a surprise. I’m going to fight back. I am a fighter, and I’m ready to fight back.”

He later told reporters covering his campaign, “I just deny it categorically. It’s rumor. It’s untrue. Period.” Mr. Kerry said it would be the last time he would speak about the story, which reports indicate had been shopped around by rival Democratic campaigns.

Mr. Kerry, stumping here for Tuesday’s primary, continued to emphasize his military service in Vietnam. He was introduced yesterday by Del Sandusky, one of the crewmen on Mr. Kerry’s wartime patrol boat, and yesterday portrayed his campaign as a military operation. “[Wesley Clark is] going to help walk point in this great battle as we go forward to take back the presidency of the United States,” he said.

He was asked yesterday about a photograph, widely circulated among veterans, showing him appearing with actress Jane Fonda at an anti-war rally in 1970.

“If people want to go back to find a photograph from 30 years ago, that’s fine by me,” he said. “You know, I disagree, like everyone else in America, with the choice she made at that point in time. I thought it was terrible. We’re 30 years beyond that. And I think people are interested in the future.”

The Bush re-election campaign released its first advertisement, a video message circulated on the Internet, portraying Mr. Kerry as beholden to the special interests he has railed against.

Republican campaigners said this was based on Mr. Kerry’s record, and not out of bounds. “We highlight policies, and note Senator Kerry’s long Senate record,” Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said Thursday night at a Republican gathering in Nevada.

Democrats, he said, are already running the “dirtiest” presidential campaign ever, pointing specifically to Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe’s charge that Mr. Bush was “AWOL” (absent without official leave) from his Air National Guard duties.

Mr. Kerry, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, has won 12 of the 14 binding nomination contests to date. A caucus will be held today in the District of Columbia, and Nevada will hold a nonbinding primary.

The Massachusetts senator flew to Nevada last night after spending the day in the Wisconsin capital. He spoke at a town hall meeting and a rally, where he accepted the endorsement of Mr. Clark, who ended his own presidential bid earlier this week.

“Sir, request permission to come aboard — the Army’s here,” said Mr. Clark, a retired four-star Army general, to Mr. Kerry, a onetime Navy lieutenant.

Mr. Kerry, fresh from two days without public appearances following his Tuesday victories in the Virginia and Tennessee primaries, welcomed Mr. Clark to his campaign and recited his most detailed attack yet on President Bush’s trade and jobs policy, calling it a “take you to the cleaners” trade policy that allows China to manipulate currency and other countries to benefit by having lower labor and environmental standards.

He promised a review of all U.S. trade agreements in the first 100 days of his administration. “We will assess what countries are playing by the rules and which aren’t.” Elsewhere, the Massachusetts senator’s two remaining major rivals, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and former Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont, yesterday pleaded with voters not to consider the primary campaign over.

“The nomination process is going to go on for a while, well into March,” said Mr. Edwards, who, like Mr. Clark, has won only one of the 14 binding nomination contests so far.

Mr. Dean said that after the Wisconsin primary, “I’m going to go back to Burlington and regroup.” Earlier he said a victory in Wisconsin was necessary for him to stay in the race, but this week he said he had changed his mind and would stay in the race.

An American Research Group poll released Thursday night shows Mr. Dean in third place at 11 percent, far behind Mr. Kerry’s first-place 53 percent. Mr. Edwards is second with 16 percent.

Mr. Kerry also reportedly will get the endorsement of the AFL-CIO next week.

The AFL-CIO, with a membership of 13 million is one of the key pillars of the Democratic Party, and an endorsement of Mr. Kerry signals the group’s desire to unite behind a challenger to begin the campaign against Mr. Bush this fall.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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