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Dean Holds Discussions With Clark


Published on Thursday, September 11, 2003 by the Washington Post
Gen. Clark Reportedly Is Asked to Join Dean
by Jim VandeHei and Dan Balz


Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean has asked retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark to join his campaign, if the former NATO commander does not jump into the race himself next week, and the two men discussed the vice presidency at a weekend meeting in California, sources familiar with the discussions said.

Clark, in a telephone interview yesterday, said he did not want to comment about the private meeting. Asked about reports that the two men had discussed a wide range of issues, including endorsing Dean, joining the campaign, possible roles in a Dean administration and the vice presidency, he said only, "It was a complete tour of the horizon."

Later, an adviser quoted Clark as saying, "I have only one decision to make: Will I seek the presidency?"

It was the fourth time Dean and Clark have met face-to-face to discuss the campaign. No decisions were made at the California meeting because Clark is still considering a run for president. Clark is scheduled to make a speech Sept.19 at the University of Iowa, when many political insiders expect him to announce his intentions.

"Most of our conversations have been around my getting advice on defense, and sometime he asks me about domestic issues," Dean said in an interview yesterday. "This is a guy I like a lot. I think he's certainly going to be on everybody's list if he's not the presidential nominee himself." Dean declined to discuss their private conversations.

While it would represent a gamble for both men to team up so early in the campaign, such a move would rattle an already unpredictable nomination campaign. Dean and Clark have two things in common that if combined could prove formidable among Democratic voters: They both opposed the war in Iraq, and both are generating excitement on the Internet and with grass-roots activists.

But a Dean-Clark alliance would also underscore the relative inexperience that both men have in national campaigns. Clark has never run for political office, and Dean has created controversy for his off-the-cuff remarks last week on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Last week, Dean said the United States should not "take sides" in the Middle East conflict and said that an "enormous" number of Israeli settlements would have to be dismantled as part of a peace agreement. Yesterday, Dean shifted course, saying the settlements should be left to negotiators.

The governor's original comments angered a number of Jewish leaders and drew rebukes from two rivals, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.). Dean came under fire yesterday from a group of House Democrats for his comments on the Middle East. "This is not a time to be sending mixed messages," the Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (Md.), wrote to Dean.

Dean has increasingly talked up Clark as a possible running mate or as a presidential candidate, pointing to the general's 33-year military record, which included a victory in Kosovo as commander of NATO forces in Europe. Dean's laudatory comments have fueled speculation among top Democrats that the two men might join forces soon on a Dean-Clark 2004 campaign.

Dean's campaign played down the significance of the talks. "I am certain along the way we have made it clear we would welcome General Clark's support in the campaign, but I am assuming other Democratic campaigns have done the same," said Joe Trippi, Dean's campaign manager. Trippi refused to discuss the meeting in California.

Other Democratic candidates have reached out to Clark, too, with Kerry talking to him by phone during the last week. But none apparently has courted the general as aggressively as Dean, a Clark adviser said. Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) said he has not talked to Clark in weeks and would welcome him into the race. "I never worry about who's in the race," Gephardt said.

Clark has been making the rounds of Democratic donors and Washington insiders for months as part of his exploration of a presidential campaign. More recently, he has been meeting with Democratic strategists who have expertise in managing presidential campaigns. Among those to whom he has reached out are Mark Fabiani, who ran the communications operation for Al Gore's 2000 campaign and worked in the Clinton White House.

If Clark joins the presidential race, which some prominent Democrats predict he will do, he would become the 10th candidate. Still other Democrats think Clark will not run, partly because he would enter well behind Dean in both fundraising and grass-roots support. Clark has sent mixed signals in recent days, leaving some Democrats he has talked to with the impression that he is in, others with a suspicion that he is out.

Recent polls show nearly two-thirds of voters cannot name even one of the nine candidates, so there is room for a new candidate to move, some strategists think. But recent polls show Clark is not widely known and would enter near the back of the pack.

He would not enter empty-handed. DraftWesleyClark.com officials said they have generated pledges of more than $1 million for a Clark campaign. Dean's campaign has said it will raise at least $10 million this quarter and other campaign strategists expect that number to be significantly higher.

The Draft Clark organization has begun running 60-second commercial spots in Iowa, New Hampshire and Clark's home state of Arkansas, prodding Clark to run. Another Clark organization, DraftClark2004.com, reports having grass-roots groups in numerous states.
 

 
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