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Inside Politics

Dean denies offering No. 2 spot to Clark

But Clark says possibility was 'dangled out there and discussed'

Democratic presidential candidates Wesley Clark, left, and Howard Dean.
Democratic presidential candidates Wesley Clark, left, and Howard Dean.

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CNN's Bill Schneider reports on the Dean-Clark dust-up over the VP spot.
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• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
Howard Dean
Wesley Clark
New Hampshire

PORTSMOUTH, New Hampshire (CNN) -- The fuss over whether Democratic presidential front-runner Howard Dean offered retired Gen. Wesley Clark the vice presidential spot before Clark entered the 2004 race took on a "he said, he said" humor Monday.

Clark continued to insist that the former Vermont governor "did specifically" dangle the offer during a private meeting between the two men in September.

Dean said he did not.

In an interview on CNN's "Inside Politics," Clark said Dean's campaign has been suggesting for months that Clark would be Dean's choice for the No. 2 slot on the ticket if Dean wins the nomination.

"His campaign has used this for some time as an effort to kind of buttress his national security flank by saying I might be his running mate," Clark said.

But Clark said he does not think Dean can use his vice presidential pick to address concerns about his foreign policy experience.

"When you're dealing with foreign policy, you're really dealing with matters of experience," he said. "Having other people tell you what to do is no substitute for having been in the arena yourself."

The retired four-star Army general compared the situation to that of President Bush when he moved from the Texas governor's mansion to the White House.

"What we have right now in the president of the United States is a governor who had no foreign policy experience and didn't know very much about things beyond America's borders," Clark said.

He said "a lot of people believed" that having people around Bush such as Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld would make the difference.

"But it doesn't work when the advisers disagree, and the president who doesn't know much has to make the decisions. It can get your country into a lot of trouble," Clark said.

"That's why I believe that you need a candidate who's got foreign policy experience and also can lead on domestic issues. That's why I'm running."

The dust-up began Sunday when Clark said on ABC's "This Week" that during a meeting in September, before he entered the race, Dean asked him to be his running mate.

Speaking to reporters Monday in New Hampshire, Dean said, "I think Wes Clark would be a fine running mate, but I have not asked him to be my running mate."

"I think that would be very presumptuous of me to do, since I have not had one vote yet in the Democratic primaries," Dean said. "I can tell you flat-out that I did not ask him to be my running mate."

A reporter asked Dean if he thought Clark was lying.

"I have no idea," Dean said, before an aide intervened to cut off the question.

Clark told "Inside Politics" that while Dean did not present a formal "sign-on-the-dotted-line" offer during their private meeting, the possibility of being Dean's running mate "was brought up by him in a very positive fashion.

"It was certainly dangled out there and discussed," Clark said. "It was offered as much as it could have been offered."

Asked if he thought Dean was not telling the truth when he said an offer was not made, Clark said, "It depends on how you define 'offer.'

"I'm just saying it was discussed and dangled, and it was offered about as much as it could be offered."

Dean acknowledged Monday that he had several meetings with Clark before Clark's decision to get in the race. He refused to provide any details of what was discussed.

"We get along well. He gave me some good advice. I gave him some advice on domestic policy areas," Dean said.

"But I'm not going to characterize what went on in those meetings, other than to say flatly I did not, and have not, offered anybody the vice presidency."

Asked if he would accept the vice presidential nomination if Dean wins the nomination, Clark would say only that he was focused on running for the presidency.

He told ABC on Sunday that he did not think a vice presidential nomination is "in the cards."

In the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, Dean was the choice of 27 percent of registered Democrats nationally, with Clark tied for second place at 12 percent with Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

In New Hampshire, which holds the nation's first primary next month, a weekend poll commissioned by The Concord Monitor showed Dean with 41 percent, followed by Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts at 17 percent and Clark in third place at 13 percent.

Those polls showed Bush with wide leads over all the Democratic candidates, both nationally and in New Hampshire, in hypothetical head-to-head matchups.

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