- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2003

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Retired Gen. Wesley Clark began his first bid for elective office yesterday, setting his sights on the presidency as a war-tested military commander, a fact he said makes him the ideal Democrat to ensure the nation’s security in a post-September 11 world.

Mr. Clark became the 10th candidate in a wide-open race, entering with an 11-minute address filled with military references, criticism of President Bush and pleas to Democratic, independent and even Republican voters alienated by the political process.

“Get ready,” he told more than 400 supporters summoned to his native Arkansas through the Internet on 24-hour notice. “We’re moving out.”

But it was unclear where he was going. Mr. Clark left the flag-draped stage without detailing his domestic policies or offering concrete solutions to troubles overseas. He promised major economic and foreign-policy speeches soon.

Mr. Clark has cast himself as a centrist Southern Democrat who favors abortion rights and affirmative action while opposing the war in Iraq. In an interview with the Associated Press shortly before the address, the former Army general called the conflict “purely an elective war” and criticized Mr. Bush for waging it without better justification.

In echoes of the slogan that boosted wartime President Harry Truman, someone shouted to Mr. Clark, “Give ‘em hell, General,” as Mr. Clark was shaking hands with the crowd. He pumped his fist, smiled and replied, “We’re going to give them the truth, and they’ll think it’s hell.”

His speech was a bit more tempered.

“For the first time since the Cold War, many Americans no longer feel safe in their homes and workplaces,” Mr. Clark told the crowd outside a boys and girls club. “These are historic times and we are going to run a campaign that is worthy of historic times.”

Mr. Clark hopes to match the accomplishment of another war-tested political neophyte — Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was elected president in 1952 as the nation feared a Soviet threat.

His advisers, some of whom met Mr. Clark when they gathered Monday to plot the late-starting bid, promised an unconventional campaign. They will attempt to capitalize on the Internet and his affinity for television to build momentum nationwide — not just in early voting Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

If logistics fall into place, Mr. Clark’s first postannouncement stop will be Florida, aides said. He wants to portray himself as a credible candidate in the South and one willing to stretch his campaign beyond the early battleground states to the site of the 2000 presidential recount.

Staff writer Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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