Clark Visits Tuesday

Posted September 24, 2003 at 6:23pm

Ten Congressional backers of Wesley Clark’s presidential bid sent out a “Dear Colleague” letter Wednesday touting the retired general’s record, the latest step in an aggressive courtship of Members by the fledgling candidate.

The letter outlining Clark’s military and professional career also invites Members to a Tuesday meeting with the former NATO supreme allied commander, the first time he will visit Capitol Hill since joining the presidential race late last week.

Clark was initially scheduled to come to Capitol Hill this week but postponed his visit to prepare for today’s CNBC debate in New York City.

“We need a candidate who can lead our country to times of prosperity and security,” the letter states. “We think General Clark is that candidate.

“General Wesley Clark sees his presidential campaign not as an ambition, but as a duty,” the writers add. “He knows that the tough questions this country is confronted with demand real solutions.”

In an interview Wednesday, Rep. Marion Berry (D-Ark.) demurred when asked about the aggressiveness of the Clark recruiting campaign. “We feel like we are presenting the situation as it exists,” Berry said. “We all feel like this is a unique candidate at a unique time.”

Aside from Berry, Reps. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), Charlie Rangel (N.Y.), Jim Matheson (Utah), Steve Israel (N.Y.), Mike Thompson (Calif.), Mike Ross (Ark.), Betty McCollum (Minn.), Vic Snyder (Ark.) and Gene Taylor (Miss.) signed the letter.

It is the latest sign that Clark intends to contend aggressively in the endorsement primary, one of the numerous mini-battles on the way to the Democratic presidential nomination.

Berry has predicted that his candidate will end up with 30 to 50 Member endorsements; he now has 12 counting Taylor’s backing, which had not been previously reported.

“I have heard some very positive things from my colleagues,” Thompson said. “People are excited he is in the race.”

Gephardt still leads the endorsement race with 31 Members in his corner, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.). Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) has 17, and Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.) has 12.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, Sens. Bob Graham (Fla.) and John Edwards (N.C.), Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio), former Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun and the Rev. Al Sharpton all have fewer Congressional supporters than Clark.

An examination of the Members supporting Clark give a window into his seeming across-the-board appeal to elected officials drawn to his fresh face and military background.

Rangel is arguably the most powerful African-American in Congress as ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee board. He is also one of the most liberal members of the Caucus.

Taylor, Ross, Thompson, Israel, Matheson and Berry are all members of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of moderate to conservative Democrats.

To many on the Hill, Clark is a blank slate politically but carries the heft of having served as supreme allied commander of NATO in the late 1990s.

The “Dear Colleague” missive notes that Clark “has committed himself to a lifetime of public service” and paints the presidency as the next logical step in that career.

Although Clark’s military credentials are impressive, he has stumbled somewhat out of the blocks on his signature issue: the Iraq war.

After saying that he would “probably” have supported the Congressional resolution authorizing the war, Clark pivoted less than 24 hours later to say that he would never have backed it.

This apparent flip-flop has led Dean and Kerry to question Clark’s foreign policy bona fides and has raised questions in a number of neutral observers’ minds about his ability to transfer his military experience onto the national political stage.

Israel, who escorted Clark around the Capitol during a visit earlier this year, said the bumps and bruises Clark has taken are standard campaign fare.

“Every candidate has ups and downs,” the Long Island Congressman said. “This is a marathon, not a sprint.”