When you think of the stereotypical military man, words like tough, macho, even Republican come to mind. Unless, of course, you're talking about retired Gen. Wesley Clark.
Since he's declared his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination, Clark has turned heads by not being your typical general. Rather, he's the general who wells up when looking at photographs of a war-torn Bosnia, or recalling an encounter with a Haitian man who dreamed of coming to America; the one who called, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (the controversial policy on gays in the military), an "ideological luxury"; the former four-star who is running as a Democrat.
He is also the one who is on the cover of next month's issue of The Advocate, a magazine geared towards gay men. "I'm the one person who can bring gay issues forward. And I will," it reads next to Clark's photo. In an interview, Clark shares his views on many issues concerning the gay community.
"The [gay, lesbian, and transgender] community is incredibly important to this campaign and The Advocate is the biggest magazine in that community, so we were proud to be asked to be on the cover and he was happy to do it," explained Clark communications director Matt Bennett.
Posing in a casual white undershirt and black jacket, Clark has ditched the fatigues, left the suit and tie at home and shed the argyle sweater. He's tanned, relaxed and looks more like a movie star than a politician.
"They brought in fashion editors and they kind of swooped him away and all of the sudden his shirt was unbuttoned," said Bennett, who was at the New York City photo shoot last month.
"He is handsome, he's fit and he obviously works out," said one female voter upon inspecting the magazine after a Derry, N.H., rally Friday night.
Another woman added, "Well, it is hip to be gay."
Hip? Maybe. The magazine says Democrats are "slugging it out" for the gay vote.
In addition to favoring a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," Clark supports civil unions, but says the issue of gay marriage should be left up to individual states. When discussing equal rights for gays last month at Dartmouth College, Clark recounted a time when he counseled a fellow military officer on acceptance of gays and lesbians. Clark said he asked the man if he would still love his child if he were gay. When the man answered in the affirmative, Clark asked if he would want the child to have the same rights afforded to everybody else. As Clark told it, the man said yes.
"I think he's right. Everybody has equal rights, and that doesn't affect family values," one voter said.
But Clark didn't always use the phrase "sexual orientation" in his standard stump speech.
After hearing Clark speak in Bismarck, N.D., earlier this month, a lesbian couple approached him and asked why the group was absent from Clark's fourth value of "inclusiveness," under which he referenced race, creed, color and gender.
One of the women said, "You did not include sexual orientation. I am a mother, I'm a daughter, I'm a Christian, I'm a Democrat; and I had to go to British Columbia to get married to my partner of 17 years. Will the Democratic Party accept sexual orientation?"
"Absolutely, and I'll say it the next time; you're the first person to mention that explicitly," Clark responded. "You can be sure I'm going to say that."
"You got my vote, General."
The next day, back in New Hampshire, Clark added sexual orientation to his inclusiveness list and has included it regularly in his stump speech.
As the Advocate's cover boy – and after a recent endorsement by another gay and lesbian outlet, the Washington Blade – Clark could win over some votes in the gay community. But that's not without the risk of losing support from some conservatives and Independents who Clark has been courting on the trail.
Already, Internet sites have begun posting articles and commentary on Clark, one of which, Michnews.com, calls him the "poster boy for the gay bath houses."
Some New England Democrats, like Helen Waldorf, who turned out to hear Clark on Friday night, see the potential for fallout.
"I think, very frankly, an article like that could hurt him. There may be conservative individuals who may not like that statement," Waldorf said.
Upon second thought she added, "But hey, they're not going to see that magazine anyway. I mean what are they going to be doing with that magazine in their living room?"
At this point, the campaign isn't too worried about possible repercussions. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it, but I don't really think that looking good on the cover of The Advocate is going to have a negative impact in the general election," said Bennett.
By By Bonney Kapp