Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark is signing fundraising letters for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and making campaign speeches on her behalf, raising speculation he might be auditioning as a vice-presidential nominee.

Both Republicans and Democrats said the four-star general could do for Mrs. Clinton — or even for Sen. Barack Obama — what Vice President Dick Cheney, a former secretary of defense in the first Bush White House, did for George W. Bush in 2000.

“Wes Clark is one of the few generals who understands military leadership as well as political leadership,” said former Rep. Butler Derrick, South Carolina Democrat. “He would help reassure voters for both [Sen. Barack Obama] and Clinton that their administrations would be firm and reliable on national defense.”

Mr. Clark could be particularly effective to counter Sen. John McCain, the probable Republican standard-bearer, whose credentials as Vietnam War hero and Senate tenure dealing with military matters are regularly praised.

Donald J. Devine, a Republican Party consultant and former Reagan White House official, said Mr. Clark is a central casting version of a national candidate — a sleek and immaculately coiffured general who commanded Operation Allied Force in the Kosovo war when he was NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe.

Mr. Derrick said Mr. Clark “would lend credibility to Clinton’s position on the war, as he was against it from the beginning, which is almost unheard of for a retired general.”

Mr. Clark might be even more of an asset to the Illinois senator, who has little foreign policy or military experience.

“Citizens have doubts about Obama’s depth of knowledge in this area,” said Mr. Derrick. “Wes Clark would help reassure the doubters.”

Alisa Cohn, a Boston small-business owner and Democratic voter, sees promise in a ticket including Mr. Clark, who dropped out of the 2004 race and endorsed Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.

“Wes Clark would be an asset to Sen. Clinton or Sen. Obama because of his military experience and he brings a reasoned persona to a ticket in my view,” said Miss Cohn.

But Republican strategists say Mr. Clark would be a bad choice for a running mate for several reasons, mainly that he’s not an office holder who has a proven base of support that could swing an important state.

“Wesley Clark would be a disaster for the Democrat ticket,and that’s a good thing,” longtime New Hampshire Republican Party consultant David Carney said. “The VP really has several roles — to rally the base states and fill the coffers, to attack the opponents and not to screw up the debate or while on the stump.”

But in Mr. Carney’s view, Mr. Clark is simply “boring and low-key, so when he fakes enthusiasm it comes across as insincere.”

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