Clark's Strategy Starts to Pay Off
Posted by Mary
Wesley Clark decided to skip the Iowa caucuses and concentrate on the upcoming New Hampshire primary. His campaign is also front loading for the other early primaries. This gamble seems to be paying off well right now as he has clearly passed Kerry in the latest polls from New Hampshire.
Clark is also getting a lot of attention in the blogosphere as well as in the press. Last week, Clark had an interactive chat with several of the more well-known bloggers where they had a chance to ask him their questions. Bill Scher of Liberal Oasis provided a transcript to the chat. Ruy Teixeira of Donkey Rising is following this race closely and believes that the retired general can pull out a win when it comes down to a two man race.
One thing that seems to be going for Clark is that he is able to stay above the fray from the dogfight in Iowa. Where Howard Dean has always had an advantage that he came from outside the beltway, Clark is the ultimate outsider because he has never held elective office. He addressed the attacks from the other candidates by saying that they were just politicians.
"It's what they do. Politics is a lot about attacks," Clark says dismissively of the other contenders, eager to categorize them as standard-issue politicians while setting himself apart.
Yet, we are also seeing stories about Clark remaking himself to appeal to women. The Boston Globe's story about this was much more substantive than that in the NY Times, which played up the fact that he is wearing argyle sweaters. The Globe focused on the message:
Clark's pitch used to be heavy on the military, and many of his personal anecdotes involved him sitting behind a desk in a commander's office. Now, he focuses on his premilitary days, talking about his Arkansas roots, his Baptist upbringing, his days watching Little Rock's integration.
The underlying message has shifted a bit, from Clark's foreign policy credentials to his campaign's contention that he'll play better than Dean in the South. But either way, Clark's candidacy is still premised largely on his electability, and it's on those grounds that some New Hampshire voters now say they're giving Clark a close look.
The very thing that make Clark attractive to Southern voters (his military background) makes him a hard sell to many women and it seems that there is a real age divide in the voters who back Clark versus those that back Dean.
Watson fits the profile of the new Clark voter, said Dick Bennett, president of American Research Group, which runs the New Hampshire tracking poll that indicates about a 2-point-per-day rise for Clark and a slight drop in a still-formidable lead for Dean. Dean's support among young voters hasn't slipped, Bennett said, even with the recent flurry of negative attention he's received. Women, too, tend to stick with him. Clark's rise, instead, seems to have come from men, many of them 45 or older.
"If the wives of the husbands who are supporting Clark vote for Clark," Bennett said, "then it's a close race with Dean."
Women voters, though, have had a harder time with Clark, in part because of his military background, Bennett said. Indeed, in Peterborough, one voter told Clark that some of his friends refused to vote for a general, something scattered voters have mentioned throughout the campaign.
Certainly Clark's military background and strong leadership skills are the draw for a number of voters. This is admirable and it is obvious that General Clark is a highly intelligent, thoughtful person and would make a much better president than George Bush.
Dean's attack on Clark not being a Democrat (and thus a viable candidate) is misguided because there have been exceptional Democratic leaders who were originally Republicans, including Leon Pattena. Yet, questioning what type of president Wesley Clark will make based on his military background is a legitimate question. Clark said he voted for Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan because he supported candidates that were "strong on national security." What does this say about his priorities? As a military man, will he recognize the danger to our country by a too aggressive military-industrial complex? Is his definition of being strong on national security being strong on defense spending? Or would he, like Eisenhower, come to understand that starving the social programs to fund a hugh military machine is a tradeoff that ultimately weakens our country's national security. It would be good to have this discussion before the primaries have settled on the Democratic candidate.