- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2004

NASHUA, N.H. — Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark gets the kind of endorsements that no career politician candidate can get.

Among the “Teachers for Clark” and “Clark Cares” signs at a rally here in Nashua yesterday was one banner that read “American-Albanians for Clark: Thank you for bringing peace to Kosovo.”

“I’m here because I believe in the man,” said Emin Egriu, 41, who was born in Yugoslavia and is now a builder in Buffalo, N.Y. “Looking him directly in the eyes, I can trust him more than any other candidate.”

Mr. Clark, a former Army general, hopes his 34 years of military service are enough to keep him in the race against the other four major candidates, all of them politicians.

For both Mr. Clark and Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the gamble of skipping the Iowa caucuses doesn’t appear to be paying off.

Mr. Clark is now trying to perform well enough in New Hampshire’s primary tomorrow to be a viable candidate in the Feb. 3 primaries and beyond.

But after polling second in some early surveys in New Hampshire, behind former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, Mr. Clark has not gained. In fact, polls taken after the Iowa caucuses show him falling from second to third and, in come cases, fourth place.

All five major tracking polls released yesterday showed Mr. Clark slipping from the previous day.

A GallupCNNUSA Today poll released yesterday morning showed him slipping from 14 percent to 10 percent, and falling into fourth place behind Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Mr. Dean and Mr. Lieberman, who had 12 percent support.

A University of New Hampshire/Fox News poll, meanwhile, showed Mr. Clark falling back to 11 percent from 13 percent — putting him fourth behind Mr. Kerry, Mr. Dean and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who held steady at 12 percent.

Mr. Clark told Tim Russert on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program yesterday that he doesn’t necessarily expect to win New Hampshire, but that a loss won’t end his candidacy.

“Not here. But you know, I wouldn’t rule anything out anywhere,” he said. “We’re going to do as well as we can everywhere.”

“We’ve got a lot of strength. We’ve got an incredibly strong base of support, especially in the South, but really all across the country,” he said. “There were [50,000] to 70,000 people that urged me to get into this from the draft-[Clark movement]. And people have quit their jobs. They are full-time volunteers. It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. I mean, it’s just real passion.”

Mr. Clark is running as an outsider among a group of politicians.

“I’m not a politician,” he said. “I am the solution to Washington.”

He is a particularly harsh critic of President Bush’s Iraq policy. At yesterday’s rally in Nashua, even as he promised to complete the U.S. mission in Iraq and bring the troops home, he said Mr. Bush is making a mistake by rushing to meet the June 30 deadline for handing over power in Iraq.

“He’s going to do anything to beat the June 30 date, and it not only puts our troops at risk, it puts the mission at risk,” he said.

Like the other major candidates, Mr. Clark’s rallies have been filled and people have had to be turned away. “One thing I learned about New Hampshire: You’ve got the greatest fire marshals in the world,” Mr. Clark said.

The problem Mr. Clark faces is that many voters still don’t know enough about him. He entered the race late, and without years of political service, he hasn’t been in the news the way other candidates have.

Also, his advertisements on television here are mostly biographical, with an announcer describing his Army career and leadership rather than his stances on issues, as pictures of the Vietnam War are flashed on screen.

“It’s not his own voice,” said Rick Roberts, an undecided voter at the Nashua rally yesterday.

After conducting a focus group for MSNBC with 20 New Hampshire Democratic and independent voters on Friday, pollster Frank Luntz said the support Mr. Clark is drawing comes from both moderate and very liberal Democrats exactly because he is so undefined.

“He is what they want him to be, and they disregard the rest,” Mr. Luntz said.

Mr. Clark does give some specifics in his stump speech. He promises to enforce environmental regulations and allow U.S. residents to buy prescription drugs in Canada.

He also vows to eliminate federal income taxes for a family of four making $50,000 a year, and to give a $1,500 tax reduction to a family with children and an income of $100,000 or less.

Issues aside, Mr. Clark’s military experience alone is enough for some voters.

“I know he is a man who can run an organization,” said Vijay Batra, 60, from Nashua. “The federal government is an organization. Two, he is a man of vision.”

“What he says, I think, comes from his heart. That’s what I want,” said Mr. Batra, who said he switched from being a Dean supporter in September as soon as Mr. Clark announced his candidacy.

For his part, Mr. Lieberman is slowly gaining support in the polls, though the senator still hasn’t cracked the top two positions.

On CNN’s “Late Edition” program yesterday, he told Wolf Blitzer skipping Iowa was the right choice.

“I made the right decision based on limited time, resources. We were going to start here,” he said.

He also said he has detected “Joementum” among New Hampshire voters, particularly among independents, who are allowed to vote in tomorrow’s primary.

“They’re coming out in big numbers to vote for me. And that’s a message,” he said. “You can’t win an election in America with only your own party. I can get Democrats, independents and a growing number of Republicans who are disappointed with George Bush but won’t vote for any Democrat. They’ll vote for me. I can beat this guy and start a new chapter in America.”

That’s also the pitch Mr. Clark makes.

“If we’re going to win this election in November, we’re going to have to bring a lot of people over to this party,” he said at a rally in Henniker yesterday. “I’m the only candidate in this race who can bring in independents and moderate Republicans.”

Former Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, who campaigned with Mr. Clark yesterday, said after watching Democratic candidate Al Gore’s performance in Florida in 2000, Mr. Clark can win voters Mr. Gore couldn’t.

“Wes Clark will get the voters that Al Gore got, but he will also get Democrats that did not support him for that election. He’ll get independents Al Gore didn’t get, and he’ll get Republican voters, too,” Mr. Butterworth said.

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