Much has been made of retired Gen. Wesley Clark‘s dipping his toe into the presidential waters, particularly with the help of his former commander in chief, Bill Clinton. Already, former Clintonistas (and Hillary advisers) Harold Ickes and Mark Fabiani are said to be on the Clark payroll should his candidacy become formal. And over dinner in Chappaqua, New York, with some of his wife’s highest profile financial backers, Bill was touting Clark as the second most interesting national Democratic figure outside of his own spouse.
Clinton has been pulling Clark’s string for some time, making sure the man who made him look good in the Balkans makes the necessary calls to DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe, and talks to the right campaign finance people. Clinton is also said to be pressing many of his former staffers to jump on the Clark bandwagon for at least the early stages of the campaign.
“He’s saying that Clark is going to be a vice presidential candidate from the minute he enters the race,” says a former Clinton and Gore campaign staffer, who is mulling joining Clark’s team. “We’ll have to jump-start his campaign, but from there party emotions and the election season will carry him through to the nomination process.”
Already both former Vermont Gov. Howie Dean and Sen. John Kerry have been sucking up to Clark, promising him the bottom of their ticket. Dean met with Clark during a West Coast swing ten days ago. Dean promised to keep the meeting confidential, then turned around and leaked the meet to the press. Kerry and Clark have spoken by phone on at least two occasions, according to the former Clinton/Gore staffer. Kerry has been touting their simpatico military careers.
Clark remains unsure of how far he wants this political process to go, according to some insiders. He is interested in running, but is concerned that his close ties to the Clintons will backfire on him, as it were.
“There are a lot of old military types who feel they were badly treated by the Bushies when they came in,” says a Clark insider. “They hate Rumsfeld, they hate Bush. They feel they were shown the door at the Pentagon and elsewhere, before they were ready to step down. There is a lot of animus toward them, and much of it is feeding into the draft Clark movement.”
Clinton, for his part, has attempted to stay out of Clark’s way. They have been meeting regularly, whether in person while both men are on the road, or via phone. “They talk at least once every couple of days,” says the former Clinton/Gore staffer. “They are tight, but President Clinton has said nothing can be too obvious, that he has to be fair with the other candidates.”
Clinton showed up in Iowa on Saturday night for Sen. Tom Harkin’s steak fry event, ate three steaks (he told Democratic leaders there he remains on the South Beach Diet), and touted the Democrats running for president. Then he headed off for meetings in California with Gov. Gray Davis and state party leaders. Davis’s campaign is said to have covered some of Clinton’s expenses out to the coast.
Clinton’s political activity is being engineered, in part, by DNC chairman McAuliffe, who has been strategizing with Clinton on how best to use him in the coming months.
“They are going to use him all over the South and the Northeast. That’s the plan,” says another former Clinton administration staffer. “They think Clinton can do enough to force the Republicans to spend more in the South than they want to, especially in Florida. Clinton’s still popular enough with independents that he could make a difference.”