- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2003

Just four days after entering the race for the White House to a splash of media attention, retired Gen. Wesley Clark has shot to the lead among the other nine Democrats who have been running for months.

“It shows the weakness and disarray of the Democratic field on everything from taxes to foreign policy to national security,” said Christine Iverson, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. “They have no coherent message and no coherent policy position on any issue.”

With the majority of candidates languishing in the single digits, Mr. Clark won support from 14 percent of registered Democrats surveyed last Thursday and Friday in a Newsweek magazine poll. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman — all front-runners in the crowded field at one time or another — fell behind with anywhere from 10 percent to 12 percent.

In a separate poll for USA Today released yesterday, Mr. Clark garnered 22 percent of the votes among Democrats, beating his closest rival by at least nine percentage points.

Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina said, “Gen. Clark’s not very well known across America, but he had a couple of days of being on television this week and he jumped to the front.”

Mr. Edwards, who has been campaigning aggressively nationwide for more than a year, polled in seventh place with 6 percent of the Democratic votes.

Tony Welch, spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, declined to handicap the primaries, except to say: “I can say without reservation that we need a 10th podium for the debate this week in New York.”

Mr. Clark, a retired four-star general, announced his campaign Thursday after months of swelling speculation that he might run.

One prominent political theory floating around is that Mr. Clark will run until the middle of November, when he will hand over the reins of his up-and-running political operation to New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Mrs. Clinton has said many times that she is not running, but her husband — former President Clinton — has hinted otherwise.

Since entering the race, Mr. Clark has made a series of gaffes.

He waffled last week over whether he would have voted for the resolution to launch war against Iraq. Eventually, he settled on saying, “I don’t know whether I would have or not. I’ve said it both ways.”

Mr. Clark also confused some supporters over the depth of his Democratic credentials. After voting for Republicans Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan for president, Mr. Clark said he became a Democrat listening to Mr. Clinton’s early presidential campaign speeches. Then, it was revealed, he spoke at a Republican Party fund-raiser in 2001 and was registered as an independent.

Telephone messages left with Mr. Clark’s campaign office in Arkansas were not returned.

Mr. Clark’s instant popularity in the primary reveals a deeper confusion in the Democratic Party, said Dante Scala, professor of politics at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H.

“It says something about how the Democrats — even at the elite level — are confused about whom to support,” he said.

The Newsweek poll of 1,001 adults was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates Thursday and Friday last week by telephone. The margin of error was three percentage points in either direction.

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