Clark's Entry Could Shake Up Race

Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, right, greets supporters after speaking to delegates at the Arkansas Municipal League state convention in this file photo from Friday, June 20, 2003, in Little Rock, Ark. Clark is still mum on whether he will seek the presidency, but he finally revealed his political affiliation as a Democrat on Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2003. AP

Douglas Kiker of the CBS News Political Unit reports retired Gen. Wesley Clark's candidacy could have a major impact on the Democratic presidential race.

Wesley Clark's imminent entry into the presidential race has the potential to hurt every other Democrat running for the party's nomination. From John Kerry's perceived strength on national security to Howard Dean's opposition to the war against Iraq to the impressive senatorial resumes of Joe Lieberman and Bob Graham, Clark, on paper at least, presents a clear threat to all nine candidates.

Debra DeShong, communications director for the Democratic National Committee, said the party should welcome Clark to the race.

"As (DNC Chairman) Terry McAuliffe has said, the more the merrier. Now we will have ten people out there criticizing President Bush instead of nine," Deshong said.

Still, there's little doubt that the other campaigns will feel some impact from Clark's entry, scheduled to be announced Wednesday in his hometown of Little Rock, Ark.

For now, the other candidates were welcoming Clark to the race. Jano Cabrera, Joe Lieberman's press secretary, said Clark would "contribute to the debate of ideas and we look forward to his participation."

Rep. Richard Gephardt's spokesman, Erik Smith, also said Clark would be a welcome addition to the already crowded field. "He's a great candidate, and we're happy he's running as a Democrat," Smith said.

Robert Gibbs, spokesman for John Kerry's presidential campaign, said of Clark's entry: "We welcome him to the race. Clearly, Gen. Clark brings an impressive resume to the race and we look forward to seeing him on the campaign trail."

Political observers have speculated that Clark's candidacy could reduce the impact of Kerry's Vietnam veteran status, which he's touted as a key to handling national security issues. Gibbs said Kerry's military record combined with his legislative experience as a senator still makes him the most qualified candidate on national security.

"Sen. Kerry's national security credentials are second to none," Gibbs said.

It's not just Kerry who could be hurt by Clark. Democrats say the entire field is vulnerable; in particular, Kerry and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, whose candidacy caught fire due, in part, on his opposition to the war against Iraq. But Clark, a retired four-star general and former NATO supreme commander, also opposed the war and has a sterling military record to go along with his opposition.

"He's like Howard Dean with credibility," said one senior Democratic strategist. "He's anti-war and a fresh face and, of course, his resume matches the post-9/11 world perfectly."

Surely not by coincidence, word of Clark's entry into the race crossed the wires just minutes before North Carolina Sen. John Edwards took the stage for his formal campaign announcement, and the news quickly sucked the oxygen out of the political world.

As one senior Democrat put it: "The theme of Edwards' campaign today is not being the son of a mill worker. … It's horrible, awful timing. First, his announcement is upstaged by a hurricane and then, again, by Clark."

By Douglas Kiker
  • Joel Roberts

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