COLUMBIA, S.C., Jan. 31 (UPI) -- Gertrude Clark traversed South Carolina Friday as a delegate of her husband, retired four-star Gen. Wesley Clark, in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, while the candidate himself moved on to stump in other states.
Gertrude Clark -- Gert -- took part in the requisite meet-and-greet events in the South Carolina towns of Florence and Myrtle Beach before heading to Miami for a fundraiser, as time wound down to South Carolina's primary, one of seven contests to be held nationwide Tuesday.
In addition to its status as the first-in-the-south primary, South Carolina also is the first state with a sizeable black population. Nearly 50 percent of those voting Tuesday are expected to be black, and the Clark campaign pushed to emphasize Clark's pro-affirmative action stance.
An impressive array of black leaders accompanied Gert Clark, including Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., who heads the Congressional Black Caucus, retired four-star Gen. Johnnie Wilson, who has known Wesley Clark for 34 years and says Clark had a major role in integrating the Army, and Mary Frances Berry, chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
Speaking at Florence's West Side Café, Gert Clark also appealed to her listeners' populist sentiment. South Carolina has been hard hit with the recent economic downturn and subsequent depressed job market, especially in the manufacturing sector. Gert Clark contrasted her husband with both Democratic front-runner Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and President George W. Bush. Wes Clark "wasn't born a general," she said. "He earned it."
With no governing record point to, the campaign is working to cast Clark's leadership experience in the Army in as many angles as possible. He is also fighting Kerry, who served as a lieutenant during the Vietnam War, to win over the state's veterans and military families, which constitute a significant portion of South Carolina's population.
Gert Clark's pitch at the West Side Café further reinforced the support of Florence native and veteran Charles Smith, he told United Press International. Smith said initially he was interested in former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, but added that Dean had "started well, but -- "
Smith can relate to Clark, however. Clark "came up (the ranks) just like I did," he said.
Debra McKenzie, who owns the West Side Café along with her husband, Gerald, said she was impressed with Gert Clark and what she had to say. "To know a leader is to see the woman who stands behind him," she said. "She says a lot for his campaign."
Gert Clark ably represents her husband, but may not be able to fight the numbers. A survey released Saturday by pollster Zogby International shows Clark in fourth place in South Carolina with 8 percent support among likely primary voters in the state. Native Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina leads with 26 percent, followed by Kerry with 22 percent and Dean just ahead of Clark with 9 percent.
Gert Clark, however, dismissed the poll results.
"Wes will win," she told UPI. "I have no doubt about that. I wouldn't be here if I didn't believe that."
Gert Clark's support has been crucial to the campaign's very existence. During summer, as a group of earnest activists launched an increasingly viable campaign to "draft" Clark into running for the Democratic nomination, Clark himself remained ambivalent about the endeavor.
His decision, he told UPI in August, was based on his need to balance the personal and the professional.
"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 told UPI in the interview.
And Gert Clark's concern, she told UPI Saturday, was about protecting her family in the face of the intense scrutiny involved in a national campaign.
When Gert and their son, Wes, agreed to the decision, Clark decided to enter the race.
The hours are long and it's difficult to sit down and eat a meal, Gert Clark admitted, but meeting the people is great, she said.
However, one possible area of concern for Clark is his less-than-cordial relationship with Gen. Hugh Shelton. Shelton, secretary of Defense under President Clinton, was behind Clark's unceremonious dismissal from the Army after Clark had successfully completed his mission in Kosovo as NATO's supreme allied commander.
Just after Clark announced his candidacy in September, Shelton made comments questioning his integrity and said he would not support Clark for president.
Gert Clark dismisses the comments, telling UPI she was "very sad he would make those comments when he knows they're not true."
Wilson, the four-star general who has known Clark for more than three decades, attributes the comment to a personal issue between the two men, both of whom he considers personal friends. He would not comment on the veracity of Shelton's statement, he said, because he doesn't know the situation they refer to.
Wilson added, however, that he had always heard the words "integrity," "honesty" and "commitment to values" associated with Clark's name.