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Inside Politics

Clark endorses Kerry for president

Bush, Democratic front-runner's campaigns spar

Sen. John Kerry and retired Gen. Wesley Clark lock hands during an appearance together Friday in Wisconsin.
Sen. John Kerry and retired Gen. Wesley Clark lock hands during an appearance together Friday in Wisconsin.

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John Kerry
Wesley Clark
America Votes 2004

MADISON, Wisconsin (CNN) -- The Bush-Cheney campaign ratcheted up its criticism of Sen. John Kerry -- calling him "unprincipled" in one Internet ad -- as the Democratic front-runner picked up the endorsement of former rival Wesley Clark.

Clark appeared with Kerry in Wisconsin, the scene of the next major Democratic contest, hailing him as "the next president of the United States."

Clark, a retired Army general, paid tribute to Kerry's military service in the Vietnam War and said he would do everything he could to help the senator from Massachusetts win the Democratic presidential nomination and then the White House.

"Sir, request permission to come aboard; the Army's here," a smiling Clark told Kerry, a decorated former Navy officer.

Before the announcement, a source called Clark's endorsement a "significant step forward" for the Kerry campaign, predicting it would draw Southern and military votes to the Democratic front-runner, who has won 12 of the first 14 contests.

Clark, who dropped out of the race Wednesday, won only the Oklahoma primary during a campaign of five months. Four other Democrats remain in the race: former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and the Rev. Al Sharpton, a civil rights activist.

Clark, who just days ago had criticized Kerry as a Washington insider, had only warm words for his former rival Friday. He said the senator has the "right experiences, values, character and right message" for the country.

"John Kerry has been the kind of leader America needs," said Clark, a former NATO supreme commander.

Clark's emphasis on Kerry's Navy service in Vietnam is noteworthy because many Democrats have made an issue of President Bush's wartime service in the Air National Guard.

Some Democrats have questioned whether Bush performed his military duties for about a year of his service as a Guardsman at a time when he also worked on a Senate campaign in Alabama. The White House has said Bush fulfilled his military obligations, noting that he received an honorable discharge in 1973. (Full story)

Earlier Friday, Kerry was on Don Imus' national radio show, and he was asked about rumors flying around the Internet and talk radio about an alleged relationship with a young woman. Kerry, who is married, firmly denied that there was anything to any of that.

"Well, there is nothing to report, so there's nothing to talk about," Kerry said. "And I'm not worried about it. No. The answer is no."

On another front, Kerry's campaign traded barbs with the Bush-Cheney campaign, with the latest war of words being waged over an Internet ad launched by the GOP.

The ad, released Wednesday on the Bush-Cheney campaign Web site, calls Kerry "unprincipled" for his handling of special interest donations.

The ad features someone looking up information about Kerry on the Internet and finding he has received "more special interest money than any other senator" and that his "nominations and donations coincided."

The title of the ad -- "Unprincipled, Chapter 1" -- suggests more such attacks are on the way.

Kerry's campaign responded by throwing the same allegation back at the Bush administration, suggesting it is beholden to special interests.

"This White House has never met a special interest it didn't like," said Stephanie Cutter, Kerry campaign press secretary.

Dean, Edwards try to stop Kerry

Dean and Edwards continued to appeal to voters, trying to convince them the race for the Democratic nomination is not over despite Kerry's growing list of state victories.

During a campaign stop in Milwaukee, Edwards, a first-term senator from North Carolina, sounded familiar themes, talking about the need to save U.S. jobs during a roundtable discussion with steelworkers. And he urged voters to consider their options.

"What I want to do and I think is my responsibility is to make sure Democratic primary voters know that they still have a choice," he said. "And I want them to know that choice is John Edwards."

On Thursday, Dean tried to appeal to the independence of Badger State voters, urging supporters in Madison to ignore commentators who have said the race is over.

"They expect you to rubber-stamp the choice of others," he said. "You don't have to listen to them."

Before Wisconsin votes, Democratic contests will be held this weekend in the District of Columbia and Nevada, where Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie delivered a sharp broadside against Kerry in a Thursday night speech in Reno.

In prepared remarks, Gillespie attacked Kerry and other Democrats, saying they are readying "the dirtiest campaign in modern presidential politics."

Gillespie denounced questions about whether the president fulfilled his service obligations in the Air National Guard, saying, "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but they are not entitled to their own facts."

While Gillespie was careful to note Kerry's "honorable" military service, he said the senator's voting record "is one of advocating policies that would weaken our national security."

Seventy-two delegates are up for grabs in Wisconsin. To win the Democratic nomination, a candidate needs 2,161 delegates. (Delegate scorecard)

After Wisconsin, comes "Super Tuesday," when 10 states hold contests March 2. (Interactive election calendar)

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