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Clark Official Presidential Candidate; Interview With John Edwards

Aired September 17, 2003 - 16:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: The general marches on to the presidential battlefield.

WESLEY CLARK (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm here to announce that I intend to seek the presidency of the United States of America.

ANNOUNCER: How did Wesley Clark rank as a military leader? We'll review his record.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It remains to be seen whether he is Dwight Eisenhower or Al Haig.

ANNOUNCER: Clark's role in question. How will his campaign play in Iowa and New Hampshire? And which of his rivals may be feeling most threatened?

When two worlds collide. The '04 race meets the California recall. Is one taking away from the other?

Now, live from Los Angeles, and Little Rock, Arkansas, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us. I am in Little Rock for today's INSIDE POLITICS. Four months before the first primary season contests get under way, General Wesley Clark new to this race has his work cut out for him.

Clark kicked off his campaign in the city, in fact just behind where I'm standing, about three hours ago, trying to fill what some believe is a void in the Democratic contest. He portrayed himself as a straight-talking Washington outsider, with the right stuff to take on President Bush and to unite the nation.


CLARK: And in this campaign, we're going to bring people together in the great tradition of the Democratic party. Because now we need leaders, more than ever before. Leaders who will put the best interests of all our people first.

But I want to reach out especially to those in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina. And everywhere across America, get ready, we're moving out! Thank you!


WOODRUFF: Clark shared his concerns about America's economy, about its security, about America's place in the world. His unstated message is as the former leader of NATO, he is a proven leader.

For more now on General Wesley Clark's military record, let's turn to CNN's Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wes Clark is smart, as one person said here today. When he walks into the room, the average I.Q. usually goes up by about 40 points.

But by the end of his 37-year career, he has also earned a reputation as not only a brilliant commander but also a difficult commander.


MCINTYRE (voice-over): The picture of Wes Clark painted by those who served with him during his final years in uniform is one of a brilliant military thinker who at times had to be reined in by those with cooler heads. A masterful commander who was also capable of occasional miscalculation.

Despite winning the 1999 war in Yugoslavia without the loss of a single allied life, then NATO Commander Clark earned few friends among the Pentagon brass and alienated many of his fellow four stars. It's something Clark shrugs off.

CLARK: I think what you have to understand about the armed forces, it is a -- it's a competitive bureaucracy. People enter at the bottom, they come out at the top. There's a lot of gossip. There are some sharp elbows in there.

MCINTYRE: Clark's detractors, and there were many in the Pentagon, describe him as arrogant and a master of back channel manipulation, even while grudgingly admitting his keep intellect and his military acumen. Sources say his bosses, Defense Secretary William Cohen and Joint Chiefs Chairman Hugh Shelton, were often vexed by Clark's pension going directly to the NSC or State Department to get around Pentagon objections to his plans.

It was Clark, sources say, who convinced Secretary of State Madeline Albright that Slobodan Milosevic would buckle if NATO made a credible threat of force, or at the very worst, a few days of bombing. It is a miscalculation. The war last 78 days.

the pentagon and the Joint Chiefs also faulted Clark's plans for using Apache helicopter gunships to attack Serb ground forces in Kosovo as too little too late. Sources say the Joint Chiefs found that none of its options for employing the Apaches made any sense, and would have likely resulted in many U.S. and civilian casualties.

In his book, "Waging Modern War," Clark accuses the chiefs of having a hidden agenda, and complains about what he calls overly cautious Pentagon attitudes restraining commanders in the field. One example came in June of 1999 when the war had ended in Kosovo. Russian troops seized the airport and Clark fumed because he felt dithering by the U.S. and NATO prevented him from taking the airport first.

But cooler heads argued confronting the Russians would be counterproductive. British three-star General Michael Jackson, in refusing a direct order from Clark told him, quote, "I'm not starting World War III for you."


MCINTYRE: Now, Judy, much of this criticism, as I said, comes from Clark's detractors. But the fact that he has so many detractors is telling in itself -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Jamie McIntyre reporting on Clark's military record from the Pentagon. Jamie, thank you very much.

Well the nine Democrats who are already in the presidential race before Clark got in so far are saying nice things about him, at least publicly. Senator John Edwards is in New Hampshire today and I talked to him a short time ago and started by asking him whether Clark -- the news that Clark was getting in upstaged Edwards' own announcement yesterday.


SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh, no. We had a wonderful announcement and great response. Both in Robbins, my hometown, in front of the mill that I worked in and my father worked in. And the response has been extraordinary.

I know just from being here in New Hampshire where I just had a town hall meeting in Concord earlier today, that people saw it, people saw it on television, they saw it -- some people watched it live on television. And so the response has been great.

WOODRUFF: Senator, you have been out there campaigning hard for months. You've raised money. You've spent a good bit of it on expensive television ads in the early states. But you are still languishing somewhere near the back of the pack in public opinion polls. Are you discouraged?

EDWARDS: Oh, no, I'm very encouraged. If you actually look at these polls, Judy, I am moving up consistently in Iowa, in New Hampshire. I'm leading in South Carolina.

And I think actually the reason for that is because people are finally hearing this message of opportunity, and they know that I'm going to fight for the same people I fought for all my life, the kind of working people I grew up with.

WOODRUFF: Let me ask you one other thing about General Clark. He says that security is the main issue in this campaign. The security of this country. And he says because of his background in the military, and running NATO, that he is the best qualified person to be president. Is he right?

EDWARDS: Well, Wesley Clark is a fine man. There are a lot of issues that are important to the American people, jobs and the economy, health care, those are huge issues. Having spent, you know, months now out there actually not just talking to voters, but listening to them, listening to their concerns, do they care about security? Of course they do.

But they're also very worried about jobs, the loss of jobs, what we're going to do to keep jobs here in America. I have a whole plan for that. What we're going to do to create jobs. I have a very specific plan for that. How we're going to address their health care problems. You know, I've laid out a plan that will make every child in America covered by health insurance from the first time in history.

Now, I think that there are three or four major issues in this campaign. Anybody who thinks it's about one thing, and one thing alone, needs to go out and listen to and talk to voters.

WOODRUFF: One last question about Howard Dean. A lot of -- I guess the impression has been he's been the candidate moving up a lot in the last weeks of this campaign. He's been criticized by some of his fellow contenders for statements he's made lately on the NAFTA Trade Agreement and Israel.

Should he going to be held accountable, and are you going to be one of those who goes after Howard Dean when he makes statements like these?

EDWARDS: Anybody running for president of the United States, Judy, is responsible for what they say, as is this president, President Bush.

No, what I intend to do is do exactly what I've been doing. I'm going to focus on my message of opportunity for everybody, fighting for working people. And that's what my campaign is about.

To the extent there's -- there are others who are focused on criticism, day-to-day criticism, I think we have to keep our eye on the prize. And the prize here is moving this country forward, changing direction, which means we have to take out George Bush. And I intend to be the Democratic nominee.


WOODRUFF: Senator John Edwards talking to me just a short time ago from New Hampshire.

I'll be back in a little while with much more on the '04 race and the Wesley Clark entry into that contest. But right now, let's go to my colleague Candy Crowley out in Los Angeles with the very latest on the other big political story we're following, the California recall -- Candy. CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Judy. Coming up, is the recall vote any closer to living limbo? I'll have the latest (UNINTELLIGIBLE) candidates and the lawyers.

And with the all the ruckus can the presidential candidates get a word in edgewise?

And finally, make mine a latte. We'll find (UNINTELLIGIBLE) espresso tax went down with Seattle voters.

This is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.



CROWLEY: Legal briefs are due by the top of the hour on the question of whether a federal appeals should reconsider postponement of the California recall election. Even though the election date remains in question, it is business as usual for the recall candidates. Arnold Schwarzenegger called in to "The Howard Stern Show" this morning, telling the often off-color host that the election represents the will of the people.

Meanwhile recall candidates Cruz Bustamante and Arianna Huffington join Tom McClintock and Green Party Candidate Peter Comejo in a debate later today sponsored by the Los Angeles Press Club.

Governor Gray Davis made another public appearance today with a Democratic presidential hopeful. In some ways these joint appearances featuring the governor and his party's White House candidates, offer potential benefits for everyone involved.


CROWLEY (voice-over): One story divided by ten people equals not much coverage. Now, subtract the movie star Republican trying to unseat the Democratic governor of the nation's most populous state in one of the weirdest elections on record, and what you have left are Democratic presidential candidates having trouble getting their stories told.

But politicians are nothing, if not adaptable. If the cameras don't come to them, they go to the cameras.

HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm here to ask the people of California to vote no on the recall.

SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I hope that the citizens of California and knowing of their civic interest will recognize the importance of what they are doing, that they will defeat this effort to recall the governor.

CROWLEY: Now that his chances of survival are improving in the polls, Governor Gray Davis finds that his dance card is filling up. Howard Dean, bob Graham, and today, John Kerry. SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This recall is an abuse of the Democratic process.

CROWLEY: Next up, John Edwards. It is a mutually beneficial dance. the '04s get a little face time on TV in California which begins to boosts name recognition, which helps fund-raising, which a lot is done in California.

And Gray Davis gets a little fodder for his "Republicans are trying to steal another election" theme. And it does not hurt that as they roll into the '04 election year, the Democrats have a chance to stir up the resentments of 2000.

DEAN: This president, this right-wing of the Republican Party, evidently holds the consent of the people in low regard. I don't think that's good for America. I don't think it's good for California.

CROWLEY: Still, this is a delicate dance. All the '04s want the same job. California is absolutely vital to their presidential hopes. And the endorsement of the governor of California would be a plus.

GOV. GRAY DAVIS (D), CALIFORNIA: I'm taking one election at a time.

CROWLEY: That is probably just as well, given that about half of Democrat-dominated Californians still want to throw him out.


CROWLEY: A little more now on the Democratic presidential hopefuls in our "Campaign News Daily." A survey of registered Democrats find Howard Dean leading the pack in California. A Field Poll taken earlier this month found Dean the clear front runner with 23 percent. That's a 7 point jump since July. Joe Lieberman is next 15 percent. John Kerry has 11 percent. Wesley Clark was included in the survey, even though he was not then a candidate. He finish the at 4 percent.

And now, up the coast in Seattle, the proposed tax on espresso went down to defeat. Sixty-eight percent of voters in Seattle rejected a 10 cent per drink tax on espresso coffee drinks. The money would have been used to pay for preschool and day-care programs.

And ahead, the new dynamics in the race for the White House. Can Wesley Clark overcome his opponents' head start? And what does he offer the Democratic faithful looking to recapture the White House?


WOODRUFF: Even from here in Little Rock, it is clear that the nine Democrats who are already in the race for president have a big head-start on Wesley Clark. But as our Bill Schneider reports, Clark may have a lot to overcome, but he also has a lot going for him.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): What can Wesley Clark add to the race with nine Democrats already running? Sure, Clark has military experience.

CLARK: I've done a lot of work with security policy.

SCHNEIDER: But so does John Kerry. And Democrats are not exactly a warrior culture.

DAVID NYHAN, EAGLE TRIBUNE NEWSPAPERS: I don't think the Democratic Party, the activist base is hungering for military candidacy.

SCHNEIDER: Sure, Clark is a Washington outsider.

CLARK: And I believe in public service in uniform.

SCHNEIDER: But Howard Dean's a Washington outsider too.

And yes, Clark is a Southerner, but so are John Edwards and Bob Graham.

What Clark brings is the combination.

DOUG HATTAWAY, HATTAWAY COMMUNICATIONS: He actually combines a number of attributes, I think, that are attractive in some of our candidates. And he has potential to cause heartburn across this field.

SCHNEIDER: Clark seems to be OK on the Democrats litmus test issues.

CLARK: I'm pro-choice. I don't support gay marriage. I see nothing wrong with civil unions.

SCHNEIDER: He's even critical of President Bush's tax cuts.

But what's defined the Democratic race so far is the intense anger at President Bush among rank and file Democrats. It caught the Washington-based candidates by surprise.

NYHAN: Kerry's problem is that he's like a waiter in a fancy hotel, who you're waiting for your breakfast and he brings you the menu, and 20 minutes later he brings you a glass of water, and 10 minutes after that your silverware. But you're saying, Where's my meal?

SCHNEIDER: It's given Howard Dean early momentum.

NYHAN: Dean's like a short-order cook. He slaps that red meat out there. You want bacon? You want sausage? I'll give you the lumberjack special.

SCHNEIDER: Can Clark tap into the Democrats' fury at Bush? Maybe. CLARK: It must be 150, $160 billion of the American people's money that's being taken from us, from these children on this playground. It's being put into Iraq.

SCHNEIDER: And he has one big advantage over Dean and all the other Democratic contenders -- stature.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Clark really does bring stature as a commander, which is one of the few assets Bush has going in this race.


SCHNEIDER: What gives Clark stature? Three words -- supreme allied commander, plus Rhodes scholar, plus first in his class at West Point. But all that stature will not give him victory in the Democratic race unless he uses it to frame a case against President Bush -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And that's what we're going to have to wait to find out. All right. Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

Well, another question we're asking -- can Wesley Clark generate fireworks? Donna Brazile and Bay Buchanan will be with us in a minute to talk about the general's march on the '04 campaign.


WOODRUFF: With us now, former Gore campaign manager, Donna Brazile, and Bay Buchanan, president of American Cause.

Bay, to you first. Is Wesley Clark someone President Bush should fear?

BAY BUCHANAN, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN CAUSE: No. I don't think so whatsoever. He's very polished. He's accomplished. Very, very bright man. No question about that.

But Judy, what he has to do first before -- before the president has to worry about him is he somehow has to take Dean on, Howard Dean, and slow his momentum up. And a man who's been called sir for most of his life is not a populist. He's not natural at that. And he's coming up against a man who really is, and that's Howard Dean.

DONNA BRAZILE, FMR. GORE CAMPAIGN MANAGER: President Bush should cure his own dismal record on the economy.

But I think General Clark is going to cause some mild turbulence in the race, at least in the short term. But it remains to be seen whether or not he can put together a real effective broad-based, grassroots campaign machine so that he can go out there and compete with the more established candidates, who have been on the ground in some cases for over a year.

BUCHANAN: Exactly. And Judy, how does he take on -- how does he move ahead when he's not even that experienced on the one issue that I think will be the principal issue in the general election, and that's joblessness in this country.

BRAZILE: Well, he was No. 1 in his class for -- at West Point for a reason. And I think if he can put forward an economic plan to get people back to work, they'll make him No. 1 in the polls.

WOODRUFF: Does he -- is -- Bay, is there one Democratic candidate in the contest right now who specifically does have something to worry about from Clark's candidacy?

BUCHANAN: You know, I don't think so. Because the whole thing is -- it's about Dean. And you're going to have to stop Dean right now. Dean's got a really fine strategy. Iowa, New Hampshire -- he's building his bases there. And you're going to have to derail him in one of those two places.

And so Clark -- I mean, when you worry about Clark, Clark has nothing right now in any of those states. Edwards is relying on South Carolina. It's over by then. So I think Dean's the man to stop. And I don't think Clark is significant.

BRAZILE: He should go after those voters who consider themselves undecided. There's a large pool of them. And if you tap into that pool, he'll find himself very competitive for Howard Dean.


BUCHANAN: Why does somebody walk from Dean, though, Donna? I mean, he's against the war. Both of them are against the war. But Dean is really -- really been out there. He's spirited. He's very much a populist. He's got a terrific response from the Democratic base. Why do they leave him a frontrunner to go to Wesley Clark?

BRAZILE: I think they will find in Wesley Clark like they'll find in John Kerry and Dick Gephardt, John Edwards and Joe Lieberman candidates who are out there with their own message, with a vision for the country, with values that they want to champion. And that's why they'll leave Dean if they decide to.

BUCHANAN: Well, the more the merrier for my perspective, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Well, it's just beginning all over again. All right. Bay Buchanan, Donna Brazile, great to see you both.

BRAZILE: Thank you.

BUCHANAN: Thanks, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Well, that's it for today's INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff live from Little Rock -- Candy.

CROWLEY: I'm Candy Crowley in Los Angeles. I'll be back tomorrow with the latest developments in the political theater we call the California recall.

Thank you for joining us.



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