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Inside Politics

Clark, Dean camps spar over vice president talk

Conversation occurred before retired general entered race

Clark, right, told ABC's
Clark, right, told ABC's "This Week" that Dean had asked him to be his running mate should Dean win the nomination.

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Howard Dean
Wesley Clark

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Democratic dust-up pitted the campaigns of retired Gen. Wesley Clark and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean on Sunday, but the issue was the vice presidency and not Dean's foreign policy positions, which have come under regular attack from some other candidates.

Speaking in a taped interview on ABC's "This Week," Clark said Dean had asked him to be his running mate should Dean win the Democratic nomination in a conversation before Clark entered the race.

After the interview was broadcast, Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi said on the same program that such a conversation never happened.

And after that, Clark's communications director disputed Trippi's response.

"Joe Trippi may want to check in with his candidate before talking," Matt Bennett said in a statement from Clark headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas.

"Howard Dean did in fact offer Wes Clark a place on the ticket in a one-on-one meeting that Trippi did not attend."

Clark, who was NATO supreme commander during the 1999 air campaign in Kosovo, was asked if he had been softer on Dean's foreign policy statements than other candidates because he was hoping to be the former Vermont governor's running mate.

"Absolutely not. ... He did offer me the vice presidency. And what I told him was, that's not the issue," the retired Army four-star general said.

"The issue is whether I'm going to be the commander in chief and run to be the commander in chief or not. I don't believe I can do the duty that I need to do for the American people as the vice president."

Dean, who has no firsthand experience in foreign policy, has taken a strong stance against the Iraq war. He has said that the capture of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has not made the United States any safer, which drew criticism from the left and the right.

Clark said the conversation took place in early September "before I made the decision to run. ... I said I'm not really not interested in even talking about it."

Trippi, who said Dean and Clark had "a great relationship," said he thought the issue had been discussed in a separate meeting.

"In the meeting I was in, the governor told him that if he wanted to be president of the United States, the general should run for president of the United States," he said.

The issue may be moot anyway. Clark said in his interview that he didn't see the vice presidency "in the cards," and Trippi said the Dean campaign has not been considering the matter.

"Look, we haven't won Iowa or New Hampshire, a vote hasn't been cast," Trippi said. "And particularly back in the period he was talking about, we were still an asterisk in most of the polls.

"So to be talking to anybody about being vice president doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It doesn't make sense now."

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