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Clark pushes to reinvigorate White House bid

Stumbles on message and management

Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark has decided to skip Iowa's caucus on January 19.
Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark has decided to skip Iowa's caucus on January 19.

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Wesley Clark's presidential campaign has launched a muscular bid this week to prove that reports of its imminent death are greatly exaggerated.

The retired general who entered the White House race two months ago with a gold-plated resume, the blessing of the Democratic establishment and the aura of political prodigy, lost much of that luster with stumbles on message and management.

Analysts and pundits alike have been waiting for Clark to live up to his initial billing as the one Democrat in post-September 11 America with the credentials to shake up the race and beat President Bush in 2004.

But first he has to win the Democratic nomination.

Having decided to skip Iowa's caucus on January 19, Clark is pinning his hopes on a respectable finish in the January 27 primary in New Hampshire behind Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, followed by wins in South Carolina and other southern states on February 3.

Polls put Clark, who is from Arkansas, far behind New Englanders Dean and Kerry in New Hampshire. A Marist College Institute for Public Opinion poll released Monday showed him losing ground.

Clark led in a recent South Carolina poll but trails North Carolina Sen. John Edwards in others. He topped all eight Democratic rivals in one national survey last week.

"We anticipate this will be a very big week for the Clark campaign," communications director Matt Bennett said. "The campaign we believe is really at a turning point."

The mission for Clark and his team this week is to disprove any idea the candidate's star has already faded and that their man has become just one of the pack behind Dean, the underdog turned top dog.

The Rhodes scholar and retired four-star general who led the war in Kosovo and commanded NATO has some formidable weapons left in his arsenal, including a $1.1 million advertising blitz in New Hampshire, a growing Internet following that has been the source of as much as 40 per cent band a slew of fund-raisers spread across the country expected to help push his money total past $15 million by the end of the year.

"I think you would agree that it's a fairly muscular approach," Bennett said.

Clark, who announced his candidacy September 17 leaving him months behind his rivals in fund-raising and organization, is on pace to take in about $12 million in the fourth quarter, Bennett said. That is likely to be more than any other candidate except Dean.

He has at a dozen fund-raisers planned this week, several in New York City, others in Boston, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Chicago and his home state of Arkansas.

Ad spending

Clark plans to spend a sizable amount on advertising, starting a massive two-month $1.1 million campaign in New Hampshire Tuesday with a 60-second biographical spot that highlights his heroism in Vietnam, his service in Kosovo and his NATO leadership.

The media buy will keep Clark on the airwaves through January 27 in New Hampshire except for a break during the holiday season. He also plans to begin advertising in South Carolina and Arizona soon.

In a bow to the retail politicking that wins nominating races in early states like New Hampshire, the retired general has been holding "Conversations with Clark" in smaller settings where he can relate more easily to voters.

This week's push also includes a major foreign policy speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York Thursday and a flood of television appearances, including "60 Minutes II" Wednesday and "The Late Show with David Letterman" Thursday.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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