- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2003

Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark will soon announce whether he will enter the crowded, nine-member race for the Democratic presidential nomination, campaign and top party officials said yesterday.

Mr. Clark has discussed a candidacy in recent days with several presidential candidates and with Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Terry McAuliffe, who told reporters Wednesday that the former commander of NATO forces in Europe sent signals that he wants to run.

“I think he will make a decision very shortly. I think in his heart he really wants to do it. If he gets in, we’ll welcome him,” Mr. McAuliffe said.

Mr. Clark is expected to announce sometime within the next week whether he is in or out of the presidential marathon. He is scheduled to deliver an address on Sept. 19 in Iowa, which holds the nation’s first delegate-selection caucuses Jan. 19.

Some Democratic officials say privately that they do not think Mr. Clark will run, believing that it was far too late to mount the kind of national campaign organization needed to fully compete in the fast-paced caucus and primary schedule.

Meanwhile, senior advisers in Howard Dean’s campaign said yesterday that there was no truth to a published report in The Washington Post yesterday strongly implying that the feisty former Vermont governor had offered to make Mr. Clark his vice presidential running mate if he decides not to seek the presidency.

“They discussed the possibility of Wes Clark supporting Howard and playing a leadership role in the campaign. I don’t believe the conversation went beyond that,” said former DNC Chairman Steven Grossman, one of Mr. Dean’s closest political advisers.

“To the extent the Post implied that the conversation went beyond a certain point, I think they are mistaken. I think that would be an erroneous conclusion for them or anyone else to draw,” Mr. Grossman said. He added that he and Mr. Dean discussed the meeting he had with Mr. Clark and that the retired general said he “will decide in a few days.”

However, Mr. Grossman also said that “should Wes Clark decide not to run, I suspect there will be a number of conversations about his role in the Dean campaign. The two guys are compatible on a number of matters. There is good chemistry between them.”

Nevertheless, the news stories about the Dean-Clark meeting spawned speculation that by discussing a visible role in his campaign and possibly in a Dean administration, Mr. Dean may have been trying to keep another Democrat from further splintering the large field of candidates.

Mr. Dean, riding an antiwar protest wave in his party, is now the clear front-runner in the party’s first delegate contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, but Mr. Clark, who also opposed going to war in Iraq, could peel away some of his support.

“The last thing Howard Dean needs right now is another rival who thinks as he does about the war, especially when so many undecided Democrats are still looking for a fresh face,” said a Democratic campaign strategist.

But Dean spokesman Eric Schmeltzer said Mr. Dean “has not tried to dissuade Wesley Clark from entering the race in any way.”

“The governor told him that if he’s planning to get in, the sooner the better to build an organization,” he said.

“Bill Clinton did not get in until Oct. 1,” DNC Communications Director Debra DeShong said of Mr. Clinton’s late-1991 entry into the 1992 presidential race.

A recent Gallup poll found that Mr. Clark drew only 2 percent support from Democrats when he was matched against the current field of candidates, some of whom have been actively campaigning for more than a year.

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