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Clark lashes out at Kerry, Edwards

Wesley Clark makes a campaign stop in Clarksville, Tennessee.
Wesley Clark makes a campaign stop in Clarksville, Tennessee.

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JACKSON, Tennessee (CNN) -- His hopes buoyed by apparent victory in Oklahoma, retired Gen. Wesley Clark unleashed his most heated attacks yet against Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards, suggesting his chief rivals are "conventional" politicians who "say one thing and then do another."

Kerry has led in seven of nine electoral contests so far, including wins Tuesday in Arizona, New Mexico, Missouri, Delaware and North Dakota. Edwards carried South Carolina on Tuesday but appears to have lost to Clark in Oklahoma by less than 1 percentage point.

Campaigning Wednesday in Jackson to persuade voters before the Tennessee primary next week, Clark called himself "a real leader," saying the American people "want someone who will stand up for them, not look out for themselves." (CNN.com's interactive Election Calendar)

"My opponents on the inside have said that the American people shouldn't hold them responsible for everything that happens because we don't understand how things work in Washington," Clark said. "They're right. I don't understand how Washington politicians can say one thing and then do another.

"Take education. I don't understand how John Kerry and John Edwards can criticize the No Child Left Behind Act. They voted for it. I don't understand how John Kerry and John Edwards can criticize the state of our economy and claim to be champions of America's working families, when they voted for the president's tax cuts for the very rich.

"I don't understand how John Kerry and John Edwards can claim to defend civil liberties and criticize the Patriot Act. They voted for it. I don't understand how John Kerry and John Edwards can criticize the war in Iraq, when they voted to give George W. Bush a blank check to go to war."

A statement on Edwards' campaign Web site disputed Clark's assertion about the North Carolina senator's voting record on tax cuts.

"The fact is, Sen. Edwards voted against Bush's tax cuts and has proposed rolling back his tax cuts for the wealthy, he has a plan to fix and fund No Child Left Behind, and has been a strong advocate for more international involvement in military action and reconstruction in Iraq," the statement said.

Kerry also voted against Bush's tax cuts. The Massachusetts senator has said he would repeal tax cuts he says benefit those who earn more than $200,000 annually but would keep the cuts he says benefit the middle class.

Clark said he is running for president "because I believe in open, honest government, where we hold our leaders accountable."

"I believe in putting the national interests over the special interests. I believe in putting principle above politics. The bottom line: I believe we can do better. I believe we must do better. And if the system's broke -- fix it," he said.

Like former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who is emphasizing his experience outside the Beltway, Clark described himself as "part of the solution, not part of the problem. ... We need a change from the same old Washington insiders who got us into this mess."

The former NATO supreme commander added, "I spent my life in the military, acting and doing -- not in the halls of Congress, talking and debating. I call it like I see it and let the chips fall where they may."

Most of Clark's staff will forgo salaries for a week to pay for ads in Tennessee, a senior campaign aide said. With 250 staffers giving up a week's pay, nearly $250,000 will be saved, the senior aide said.

The decision was made in a vote by the staff. The aide said field workers in Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin will continue to be paid.

The aide said Clark's fund-raising on the Internet spiked after his success in Oklahoma. The campaign expected to raise about $120,000 in the 24-hour period ending midnight Wednesday, according to the aide.


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