Clark supporters point to military background

by Mark Herman | 10/14/03 5:00am

General Wesley Clark's supporters tried to lure undecided students and community members to his campaign last night during a meet-up at the Top of the Hop.

Those already involved stressed their support for Clark while responding to questions about his past politics.

As for what sets Clark apart from the crowded pack of nine Democratic candidates, many noted his electability.

"People in New Hampshire like him without even knowing him," said Brian Martin '06, reflecting on the fact that other candidates began courting New Hampshire voters long ago. Martin co-chairs the College for Clark campaign with Edward Knudsen '04.

"Dick Gephardt started running in 1988," he said, garnering laughter from the audience.

Audience members seemed to share that concern for electability. Vail Haak '49 said that he is "not going to worry" about the details of policy proposals.

"I'm worried about picking up some Southern states," he said, noting that in past elections, Democrats have been unable to win the presidency without Southern support.

Clark's resume also attracted many supporters. He graduated first in his West Point class, went to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and ascended to the rank of four-star general in the United States army before becoming the NATO Supreme Allied Commander during the war in Kosovo.

"Few people have ever tried to combine the military and diplomacy as he has. No one has really," Martin said of what made him become involved.

After remarks from Grafton County campaign chair and Dartmouth professor of medicine Jay Buckey, Martin and Lebanon campaign chair Laura Hercod, the floor was opened to questions from audience members, many of whom were still deciding between candidates.

Hanover resident Sue Deaett, who said she is torn between supporting Clark and Dean, asked the first question about Clark's past party loyalties.

"My concern is that he voted for Reagan, and to me, Reagan is a precursor to Bush," she said, before asking what changed Clark's thinking and led him to become a Democratic candidate.

Though none of Clark's supporters could speak for the campaign, and none would speculate as to what led to the apparent shift in Clark's political beliefs, they did defend his belief in the ideals of the Democratic party.

"Where he is right now is genuine," Buckey said. "It seems to me to be quite authentic."

Hercod used former president Ronald Reagan, who began his career as a Democrat, to demonstrate to the audience that candidates do change their views over time.

"He perhaps evolved," Hercod said of Clark's shift.

Others in attendance questioned Clark's failure to publicize the details of his positions on important issues. Vocal Clark supporters responded to these and other concerns. Martin assured the audience that these would become clear in a series of upcoming speeches.

Aside from complaints over his support for Reagan and Richard Nixon during their presidential campaigns, Clark has also weathered criticism from his former colleague General Hugh Shelton, who, according to Martin, said he did not like Clark.

Martin dismissed Shelton's accusations as animosity that developed as part of a rivalry between the two.

Those already active on the campaign used the meet-up to discuss the influential role that New Hampshire voters and volunteers have in determining the outcome of a presidential primary.

"This is the state where presidents are made and broken," Martin said.

Buckey also urged those in attendance to impact the political process as he discussed the grassroots nature of the "draft movement" that led Clark to declare his candidacy less than a month ago.

"What each individual does do does make a difference," Buckey said.

The Clark campaign has not wasted time here at Dartmouth. Supporters campaigned for Clark at last weekend's football game and plan to hand out flyers at this week's Hanover High School football game -- one of the most important sporting events of the school's season.