Adviser - Ex-general's bid for president almost certain
Tuesday, September 16, 2003
WASHINGTON -- On the verge of running, retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark on Monday summoned his fledgling political team to Arkansas to discuss strategy for mounting a Democratic presidential campaign.
The small group of legal, financial and political advisers were invited to today's session in Little Rock, Ark., after being told Clark was ready to seek the presidency. One of the invitees, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he was told it was "a 99 percent certainty" that Clark would run, but he wanted to finalize plans at today's session.
"We haven't been told for sure, but I think we know what this is about," said George Bruno, a New Hampshire activist who will attend the meeting. "It's up to the boss to call the shots."
Mark Fabiani, former spokesman for the Clinton White House; Ron Klain, a strategist in Al Gore's 2000 campaign, and Washington lawyer Bill Oldaker were among those invited to the meeting, officials said.
Clark, 58, has aggressively recruited staff in the last week. His earliest allies would be from former President Clinton's Arkansas-based political network, including former White House aide Bruce Lindsey.
Clark has met with several presidential contenders who covet his endorsement and might consider him for a vice presidential slot. He also has been in touch with top lawmakers and union chiefs, urging them to hold off supporting any candidate until he decides whether to run.
Though late to the race and lacking in political experience, Clark's resume is formidable -- Rhodes scholar, first in his 1966 class at West Point, White House fellow, head of the U.S. Southern Command and NATO commander during the 1999 campaign in Kosovo.
A Clark White House bid would grab the political spotlight and undercut the strength of several in the nine-way Democratic race. However, he would be competing against more experienced politicians with more money and deeper staffs.
An Internet-fueled draft-Clark movement has developed the seeds of a campaign and more than $1 million in pledges.
"In New Hampshire, there are many people ready to move out if they're given the green light," said Bruno, one of Clinton's earlier backers in the key primary voting state.
Clark believes his four-star military service would counter Bush's political advantage as a wartime commander in chief, friends say. The retired general has been critical of the Iraq war and Bush's postwar efforts, positions that would put him alongside announced candidates Howard Dean, Sen. Bob Graham of Florida and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio as the most vocal anti-war candidates.
Clark is scheduled to deliver a speech at the University of Iowa Sept. 19 but is expected to make his decision before that.
Associated Press writer Will Lester contributed to this report.