In the New Year, retired Gen. Wesley Clark is looking back to his past while campaigning in New Hampshire. Since January 2, the theme of his town hall-style "Conversations with Clark" has been the values he learned as a kid growing up in Little Rock in the 1950s. "Arkansas is where I took my roots," Clark told a crowded room of voters in Concord.
In a shift from away from highlighting his foreign policy experience, Clark argues it's his roots that make him a good leader. "I want to base it on the values I grew up with," he said to about 200 voters in Conway. "That's what I'm running on, really. American values, patriotism, faith, family and the ability to pull people together."
Harkening back to his earlier days, Clark reflected on what shaped the values he currently touts. His characterization of patriotism was formed growing up around mentors, many of whom were World War II veterans with a sense of duty. In school, Clark said, when students recited the Pledge of Allegiance, they "believed it."
Describing his Baptist-inspired views on faith, Clark recalled when his mother asked him to pick out a church to go to upon moving to Little Rock at the age of four. He decided on a Baptist church because "it had big stained-glass windows." Clark attended Sunday school, two Sunday church services and the Wednesday night spaghetti dinner. He also sang in the choir.
"Everything I've ever seen about religion, the religions I've belonged to, the ones I've studied about, have one thing in common," he said in North Hampton on Saturday. "That is, if you're more fortunate in life, you should help those who have less, that are less fortunate. You have to live that."
Clark's Southern values will likely help him in the so-called red states – the more conservative Southern and Midwestern states. At a Manchester event on Sunday, he implied that these values would also appeal to New Hampshire voters. "It will carry the South and it will carry America, because these aren't Southern values, they're American values," he said.
Whatever kind of values they are, Clark's campaign knows being from the South can be an asset. "He's a southerner. The last three Democratic presidents to be elected were southerners, so he's going to accentuate that a little bit," said Clark's traveling press secretary, Jamal Simmons.
According to some of the Democrats in attendance Friday, Clark's Southern strategy might be working. "I do like Howard Dean, but I don't think he can get elected. He's just from New England and it's too regional. Clark has more national appeal," said Carolyn Hemmingway of Concord. "It rooted him in certain ways. He talked about his home and his background and I think that it's important to know that about in any candidate," said Lucy Crichton, another Concord voter.
Kathy Sullivan, the chairperson of New Hampshire's State Democratic Party, believes the strategy could pay off for Clark, as it did for another Southerner who stole the spotlight in the state's 1992 primary. "Bill Clinton was very popular in New Hampshire," Sullivan said. "People in this country care about the same basic issues – education, jobs, the environment, the economy, foreign policy. It doesn't matter what part of the country you're from. What we care about is the right type of leadership and the right message to take in November against George W. Bush."