- The Washington Times - Friday, January 2, 2004

After separating from the pack with claims to be the only Democratic presidential candidate to give Howard Dean a run for his money, Wesley Clark is mapping his final sprint to become the Democrats’ alternative to Mr. Dean.

“It’s now clear that I’m one of only two candidates in a position to win the nomination,” Mr. Clark, a retired general, said in a statement issued Thursday. “And I’m the only candidate positioned to actually win the election because I am the candidate best able to stand up to George W. Bush and win the debate about who will best be able to make our country secure over the next four years.”

President Bush had a 67 percent to 21 percent lead over Mr. Dean on who people trust more to handle national security, according to a mid-December ABC-Washington Post poll.

Mr. Dean’s campaign aides say his strength in a general election campaign is his unique ability to mobilize new voters and his ability to raise money beyond the limits required by taking federal matching funds.

Dean spokesman Jay Carson said the former Vermont governor was the one candidate “who had the good judgment to oppose the war in Iraq when that was not politically popular.”

Mr. Carson said Mr. Clark and other candidates taking matching funds will be “flat broke after the primary campaign and sitting ducks for President Bush.” The president’s re-election campaign has already raised more than $115 million.

Now that Mr. Clark has raised more than $10.5 million in the final quarter and is getting $3.7 million in federal matching money, his campaign provided a road map this week of how he plans to capitalize on his strong financial position.

They hope to carry their fund-raising momentum into January by raising another $4 million during the month.

“We will have ample resources to compete well into February and beyond,” said campaign spokesman Matt Bennett. Mr. Clark is in relatively strong positions in both national polls and in states with early contests.

Mr. Dean leads in national polls and in New Hampshire as well as some states with early contests.

As Mr. Clark tries to narrow the race to two candidates, other campaigns are likely to start diverting some of their relentless attacks from Mr. Dean.

They have their own ideas of who can be the alternative to Mr. Dean.

Campaign aides to Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut say Mr. Clark is relying too heavily on his biography as a military man.

In fact, the Clark campaign is sending a 15-minute videotape about the general’s life and views to 50,000 possible primary voters in New Hampshire and showing it on several cable channels in the state before the Jan. 27 primary.

His rivals have criticized Mr. Clark’s past support for Republican presidents. They also found fault with his stumble on the Iraq war issue right after entering the race in September. After giving contradictory answers, he now consistently says he is against the way the war was handled.

Starting Monday, Mr. Clark plans a carefully orchestrated introduction of domestic and security proposals. He plans to roll out a “signature issue” on the domestic front, though aides wouldn’t discuss specifics.

For a week in mid-January, the former NATO commander plans to address different aspects of domestic and economic security every day — including a detailed homeland security plan. During that week, he will focus his campaign on New Hampshire and states with contests in early- to mid-February.

Starting the week of Jan. 19, Mr. Clark plans to campaign steadily in New Hampshire, as all the candidates move their campaigns to the Northeast. Relying on his strong finances, the former general is advertising heavily in New Hampshire, as well as in many states in the South and West with contests in February.

The Clark campaign is counting on its roots as an Internet movement to help build a strong grass-roots presence, both traditional and online.

Taking a calculated risk, the candidate is not competing in the Jan. 19 Iowa caucuses, saying he entered the race too late to compete there. Iowa plays an important role in several other candidates’ plans to challenge Mr. Dean.

Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, the Missouri congressman with a comprehensive health care proposal, is counting heavily on a win in Iowa, while Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina hope to do well in Iowa to strengthen their hand in New Hampshire and beyond.

Like Mr. Clark, Mr. Lieberman is skipping Iowa, and hopes his support of President Clinton’s centrist Democratic policies and his name recognition as Al Gore’s running mate in 2000 will help him gain traction there.

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