“The guy went without ever playing in the major leagues and batted .300 his first time up,” Lehane said. “He needed to bat .400 to get the nomination.”
Rangel, who led the charge for Clark on Capitol Hill, said he has spoken with the general approximately six times since the campaign ended last year.
“I’m convinced we would have won with him,” Rangel said. “On the war he had a much better message than most of our candidates.”
Clark faces two serious hurdles as he contemplates a return run for president, neither of which existed in 2004.
The first is that the 2008 Democratic field seems likely to include New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Clark is close to the Clintons and a number of top officials in his 2004 campaign also served in President Bill Clinton’s administration.
With polls showing Sen. Clinton comfortably ahead of the other Democratic candidates, there is some sense that Clark may have already lost his place in the race.
Rangel, who was the originator of the idea that Clinton run for Senate in New York in 2000, insisted that if the Iraq war and national security remain the dominant issues in 2008, Clark still has significant appeal as a candidate regardless of who else is in the field.
“If that situation was the same now, I think he would have been the most-attractive candidate, having not voted for the war as Hillary Clinton did,” Rangel said.
Lehane was more measured about Clark’s prospects, suggesting that he should have an “enormous role in the party that can manifest itself in any numbers of ways.
“I’ve always thought a Clinton-Clark ticket had a nice ring to it,” Lehane said.
Perhaps as troublesome to Clark as the fact that Clinton is looming over the race is his decision to bypass the Iowa caucuses in 2004.
Clark, who was the last candidate to join the race, made a strategic choice to skip the Jan. 19 caucuses because of a belief that to win required an organization he would not be able to assemble in such a short period of time.
That decision confounded a number of politicians and party strategists, including Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin (D).
Harkin hosted Clark in October 2003 for a town hall event in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and reportedly came away extremely impressed, according to informed sources. Harkin was mulling endorsing Clark when the general announced he would not compete in Iowa, the sources added.
Jeff Link, a longtime Iowa strategist and Harkin confidant, said there were “high hopes” for Clark in the state, but acknowledged his decision to back out of the caucuses could have ramifications should he run again.
“When you take away someone’s opportunity to be for you, that sticks with voters,” said Link.
Vanessa Weaver, who served as deputy campaign manager for Clark, said the general was “very favorably regarded” in Iowa, adding: “I see Iowa as open for just about anybody but especially for Wes.”
The key to a resurrection of Clark’s image in the Hawkeye State, according to Link, is “time on task,” meaning he needs to spend many hours in the state if he hopes to be competitive.