- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 4, 2003

Wesley Clark made his first direct appeal to hard-core Democrats yesterday, hoping to prove his party credentials, even though he’s still a registered independent.

The first thing Mr. Clark told the crowd at the Marriott Hotel near Adams Morgan in Washington was: “I’m pro-choice, I’m pro-affirmative action, I’m pro-environment, pro-education, pro-health care and pro-labor. And if that ain’t a Democrat, then I must be in the wrong meeting,” he said to thunderous applause from his supporters.

In the three weeks since he joined the race, Mr. Clark has raised some eyebrows in the party over his past affiliations with the Republican Party. The retired Army four-star general has spoken glowingly of President Bush and his administration, acknowledged voting for former Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and — it was revealed this week — still hasn’t registered as an actual Democrat in his home state of Arkansas.

Nevertheless, Mr. Clark told his new partymates yesterday: “I’ve campaigned for Democrats, given money to Democrats, and voted for Democrats, including Al Gore in 2000. And I’m proud that his campaign was a winning campaign.”

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, also spoke at yesterday’s meeting of the Democratic National Committee. Although he never uttered Mr. Clark’s name, Mr. Kerry took several clear jabs at the retired general for his late conversion to the party.

“This is not a commitment that I made in the last few weeks,” Mr. Kerry said. “This is not a commitment that I’ve made in the last year or that I stumbled across in the course of this campaign. This has been a cause with me for a lifetime.”

And, even more pointedly, he added: “My friends, I am proud that I stood against Richard Nixon, not with him.” The audience cheered, screamed and blew on little whistles they’d brought in.

It was a crowd of the Democratic Party’s truest believers, gathered this weekend to hear each of the 10 candidates running for their party’s nomination to oppose Mr. Bush in next year’s election. Tables were set up for each candidate to sell hats and bumper stickers.

Andrea Ronhovde, a lifelong Democrat from Washington, surveyed the candidates and said, “I don’t think we see any clear winner.”

So she brought a “draftgore.com” sign and handed out fliers that read: “Do you want to win back the White House? Then nominate someone who can do it: Al Gore.”

“He has more experience than all of them combined,” said Ms. Ronhovde. “He’s the only one who can really beat Bush.”

As for Mr. Clark, she said, “He’s a Johnny-come-lately. Clark has no experience and [Bush political adviser] Karl Rove will eat him up.”

Debra Cooper, a New York real estate agent and Kerry supporter, said Mr. Clark will have a hard time winning over the party faithful.

“I marched in the streets against Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War,” she said. “It really disturbs me that this man supported Nixon.”

Ms. Cooper also said that Mr. Clark doesn’t know how to give a campaign speech.

“Al Sharpton gives a great campaign speech. There’s a cadence, there’s a rhythm, there’s a way to marry the message with the emotion,” she said. “Clark lays out an intellectual premise.”

That said, Ms. Cooper added, “I’d be thrilled if any of them won the nomination and beat George Bush.”

Others, such as Justin McKean, a playwright and actor, support Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio Democrat and long-shot candidate, but welcomed Mr. Clark to the party.

“I don’t care if he joined the party yesterday,” he said. “We need all the voters we can get.”

Over at the Clark campaign table, volunteer Ben Steinberg said he’s not too worried about the status of Mr. Clark’s party affiliation. A nearly empty basket of miniature Clark bars, the old red-wrapped chocolate and peanut butter candy, sit on top of the table.

“People are really hungry around here,” Mr. Steinberg said. “They’re hungry for Clark.”


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