Thursday :: Sep 18, 2003

Clark's Entry and How It Will Be Reported

by Steve

For those of you hoping for a Dean/Clark ticket down the road, thinking good things about “the General” getting into the race and doing damage to other Democrats, you should take a look at Adam Nagourney’s piece in today’s New York Times. Nagourney, not exactly an inexperienced member of the national political press corps, in his coverage of Clark’s announcement yesterday makes the point that the Clark candidacy is aimed at Dean. Regardless of whether this is true or not, that is the initial spin coming from one of the major political reporters in the country. And he won't be the last.

And after reading the story and probably others like it over the coming days and weeks, one could come away from such coverage with the following impressions:

The Clark effort is an "establishment counterweight" to the Dean effort.

From the moment General Clark — or "the general," as members of his staff invariably referred to him today — took the stage, it was clear that his campaign is being designed as an establishment counterweight to Dr. Dean's effort.

Clark is a front for the re-entry of the Clinton/Gore operatives into the 2004 race, with no Gore or Hillary as a vehicle to channel their energies.

General Clark has drawn out of retirement a half-dozen close aides to former President Bill Clinton. They helped organize his flashy first political rally here today and repeatedly described him as a far stronger candidate than any Democrat in the field so far. For the same reasons, he has attracted a growing number of members of Congress, including Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York, who view him as the party's best alternative to both Dr. Dean and Mr. Bush.

General Clark's candidacy came with a push not only from the Draft Clark movement but also from the most establishment of Democrats: His advisers include Democrats close to Mr. Clinton, including Mark Fabiani, Skip Rutherford and Ron Klain.

Clark’s campaign is designed to blend the best aspects of the Dean campaign while protecting the interests of the party establishment.

General Clark's speech seemed intended to bridge the insurgent aspects of Dr. Dean's candidacy and the concerns of the party regulars who have viewed the prospect of a Dean nomination as a potential debacle for the party.

Clark wants to run on his resume, the benefits of that resume against Bush, and his alleged electability, rather than specific policy proposals. And he wants to tap into the anger approach that Dean has brilliantly trotted out while doing so.

General Clark recounted his military service and his years in Vietnam, the first thing Democrats point to in describing him as the best candidate to put up against Mr. Bush. He echoed, if in notably flatter tones, the anger of the typical Dean speech as he suggested that he alone could challenge the Bush administration with the "tough questions" that he said would lead to Mr. Bush's defeat.

But his speech was short on any kind of detailed discussion of policy that has become common with the other Democratic candidates and amounted to a quick scan of the political landscape. He spoke to people who held up signs — "When Clinton lied, nobody died!!" read one — that left little doubt how hungry this crowd was for victory next year.

"Now, I warn you: We'll ask the tough questions as we move forward, we'll hold this administration accountable," he said. "Why has America lost 2.7 million jobs? Why has America lost the prospect of a $5 trillion surplus and turned it into a $5 trillion deficit that deepens every day? Why has our country lost our sense of security?"

General Clark did not offer any answers to his questions today.

Nor did he hold a post-announcement news conference to answer questions about his candidacy, and once finished, he walked down a receiving line shaking hands, watched over by security guards and aides who pushed reporters away.

General Clark's speech was the kind of criticism of Mr. Bush that has become familiar to anyone watching the Democratic field. It was light in suggesting contrasts on issues with Democrats, signaling that his candidacy will be very much based on the arguments that his credentials and résumé would make him the strongest candidate to unseat Mr. Bush.

Clark is admittedly a late-arriving candidate aiming not at the traditional contests, but as a Southern blockade against Dean. He will use the Dean approach of firing up the base on red-meat issues and focus on the South while others focus on the more traditional battlegrounds of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Late today, General Clark's campaign announced that his first stop would be not in Iowa or New Hampshire, as is traditional, but in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. It is a symbolic gesture, an aide said, intended to raise the memory of the disputed 2000 Florida recount — an event that is as central to Dr. Dean's appeal to Democratic primary supporters as his early opposition to the war.

My own feeling is that Clark will run right at Bush, and not at other Democrats directly. His people, rather than Clark himself, will do all the anti-Dean talking behind the scenes, as Mickey Kantor did already. He will lay out general policy proposals over the next week or so, and try and keep from being dragged into detailed discussions on any issue except war and national security. But anyone who thinks that the Clark candidacy wasn’t created as a reaction against the Dean candidacy is mistaken. The Clinton/Gore people are going to steal almost all that is good about the Dean effort and then run indirectly back against Dean with it.

Steve :: 7:53 AM :: Comments (30) :: Digg It!