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Wesley Clark joins Democratic field

By
MARIE HORRIGAN, UPI Deputy Americas Desk Editor

WASHINGTON, Sept. 16 (UPI) -- Former NATO Commander Wesley Clark was set to announce that he is entering the race for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, a source close to the campaign confirmed to United Press International on Tuesday.

The former four-star general canceled all media events for Monday and Tuesday and spent Tuesday meeting with a fledgling coalition of consultants, strategists and fundraisers -- including several members of the "draft" groups that had launched the effort to get Clark to run -- who had come to his hometown of Little Rock, Ark., at his request.

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A news conference was scheduled for 1 p.m. EDT Wednesday at a Little Rock Boys and Girls Club for Clark to make his announcement, the source told UPI. Clark was to spend Wednesday morning meeting with his new advisers in preparation for his speech, the source said.

Tony Welch, press secretary for the Democratic National Committee, told United Press International the DNC would be happy to have Clark join in the next party debate, scheduled for Sept. 25 in New York.

"We'd love him (to be included) -- and think if he's in, that he will be -- a part of the next debate in New York City."

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The stage may be a little crowded, since nine other Democrats have already announced they are seeking the presidential nomination. Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., on Tuesday morning officially entered the race with an announcement in his home state, but was quickly overshadowed by widespread media coverage of Clark's soon-to-be-announced candidacy.

As of late Monday night aides to Clark had told UPI the former four-star general was undecided about whether to enter the race, but acknowledged Clark had been open about the fact he was conducting "parallel planning," assembling a campaign team should he decide to run.

Speaking with UPI in an Aug. 30 interview Clark remained ambiguous about the possibility of his running. "It could happen. Maybe, I don't know. Maybe it could," he said.

The largest factor holding Clark back from running, he said, was "trying to balance professional, personal, political.

"It's ultimately a question of how I can make the best contribution. That's what it's all about," he said.

However, Clark asserts that "America needs strategic vision. This (Bush) administration has failed."

The idea of Clark's candidacy gained media notice buzz with Internet-based "draft" campaigns calling on him to enter the race. The two major efforts -- DraftWesleyClark.com and Clark2004.com -- have raised close to $1.5 million in campaign funds.

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However, this still leaves Clark far behind fundraising frontrunners former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who as of June 30 had raised more than $10 million and $12.75 million, respectively, according to the Federal Election Commission. Campaign fundraising data for the third quarter of the year is to be released next month.

Sources close to Clark told UPI they believed he continued to struggle with the decision about whether to run even this week. Clark noted his wife's reluctance to re-enter the public domain and Clark himself said he had "never had more fun" than in the private sector and acknowledged the difficulty of the decision he has faced.

"My wife (has been) seeing how this is changing our lives, (and asks) 'Can't someone else do this? Do you have to do this?'" he said in the interview with UPI.

Clark, 58, has been married to his wife, Gertrude, since 1967, and they have one son, who is a 33-year-old screenwriter in California.

Clark graduated first in his class at West Point and, like fellow Arkansas-native former President Bill Clinton, attended Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship. He served in the Vietnam War, where he received a Silver Star after being shot several times in one incident -- "I think it was four (times), we're not sure," Clark says. "The doctors said three or four (times). I've got four sets of holes."

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Clark served as supreme allied commander during the coalition conflict in Bosnia, and led the war in Kosovo that resulted in former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's ouster.

Currently, Clark is chairman and chief executive officer of the strategic consulting firm Wesley K. Clark & Associates, based in Little Rock, and serves on the boards of several companies. He has never held public office.

Rumors swirled late last week after a Washington Post story suggested Clark and Dean had met to discuss Clark joining the former governor's ticket as a vice presidential candidate while meeting in Los Angeles.

Dean spokeswoman Tricia Enright rejected the assertion, however. "They happened to be in the same city, and you know, there's not really much more to it," Enright said. "But, absolutely we've asked for his support. Certainly we have. And I would think that most of the candidates would."

Draft workers said the story was an example of Dean trying to spin the situation to marginalize Clark, while Clark himself has dodged the idea of a vice presidential candidacy.

"I've never ruled anything out," Clark told UPI with a shrug, "but that's not the issue at hand. The issue at hand is, do you run?"

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