- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Opponents who had been digging for dirt on Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean have turned their attention to Wesley Clark since Mr. Dean’s poor Iowa caucuses performance, and they say they have found plenty of material.

“He will be subjected to the same level of scrutiny as Howard Dean was,” said Christine Iverson, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. “It will be interesting to see how he will hold up under that scrutiny.”

Some nationwide polls show Mr. Clark as the second-most popular of the Democratic candidates, after Howard Dean, among the general public. Mr. Clark did not actively campaign in Iowa and ranks third in the most recent New Hampshire polls, but he has campaigned extensively in South Carolina and Arizona, which hold their presidential primaries Feb. 3.

One of the most common criticisms of the former Army general is that he has waffled on the Iraq war.

The presidential campaign of Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman maintains a list of Mr. Clark’s various statements and positions on the war. After sending out a press release chronicling six different stances, the Lieberman camp issued a correction, saying: “We screwed up. Clark has taken seven war positions, not six.”

The attacks have not gone unnoticed by Mr. Clark’s campaign, based in his home state of Arkansas.

“It’s not unusual for the Republican National Committee to out and out lie,” said spokesman Bill Buck. “Ed Gillespie came down here to Arkansas and lied,” he said, referring to the RNC chairman.

Mr. Buck was alluding to a speech by Mr. Gillespie in which he quoted from Mr. Clark’s testimony before Congress. In that statement, Mr. Clark seemed to be supportive of the war to remove Saddam Hussein, calling him “a threat” and saying he had chemical and biological weapons.

Mr. Clark, who since that testimony joined the race for the Democratic nomination, is now harshly critical of the war in Iraq.

“General Clark has always had one position on the war,” Mr. Buck said. “He has never wavered.”

Still, Mr. Buck said, it comes as no surprise that Mr. Clark is under attack as he closes the gap in the polls between himself, Mr. Dean, former governor of Vermont, and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.

Already, he said, opponents have sent attack ads through the mail, made “questionable phone calls directed at Clark” and sent out former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen as “an attack surrogate” against Mr. Clark for Mr. Kerry.

“We’re prepared for any tactics our opponents use against us,” said Mr. Buck, who ruled out any negative campaigning.

In another security-related gaffe that the RNC gladly pointed out, Mr. Clark accused the Bush administration of ignoring a security plan devised by the Clinton administration to avoid terrorist attacks.

No such plan has ever surfaced, and the RNC found statements from former Clinton administration figures saying that no such plan was handed to the Bush administration.

As a cautionary tale, Mr. Buck pointed to the intensely negative campaigns waged in Iowa in recent weeks between Mr. Dean and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri. Mr. Dean’s campaign collapsed on election night, and Mr. Gephardt did so poorly in a state he expected to win that he quit the campaign the next day.

“There’s a price to pay for negative campaigning,” Mr. Buck said. “The people who engaged in the most negative campaigns did the worst.”

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