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Clark Announces US  Presidential Candidacy - 2003-09-17

Retired Army General Wesley Clark has formally announced his candidacy for president, joining an already crowded field of Democrats vying to challenge President Bush next year.

After months of hints and teases, former Army General Wesley Clark returned home to Arkansas to make his official announcement.

"My name is Wes Clark. I am from Little Rock, Arkansas. And I am here to announce that I intend to seek the presidency of the United States of America," he said.

General Clark becomes the 10th Democrat to enter the 2004 race for the White House. He hopes to capitalize on his 34-year career in the military to make the case that he is best qualified to lead the country at a time of war. General Clark was the commander of NATO forces during the 1999 campaign in Kosovo.

But General Clark has no political experience and his rivals have had months to organize their campaigns and raise money, especially in the crucial early contest states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

In announcing his candidacy, General Clark said he would focus on restoring the nearly three-million jobs lost under the Bush presidency and on improving the U.S. image abroad.

CLARK: Why has our country lost our sense of security and feels the shadow of fear?
CROWD: Bush!
CLARK: Why has America lost the respect of so many people around the world?
CROWD: Bush!
CLARK: Those are the questions we are going to be asking and one more. Why are so many here in America hesitant to speak out and ask questions?
CROWD: Bush!

Political experts are divided on what impact General Clark's entry into the race might have. This is University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray.

"Well I think he has the potential to quickly become a serious candidate. He brings unique qualifications to the now 10-person Democratic field with his military background and also his outspoken position in the last year on American foreign policy and military issues," Mr. Murray said.

But other experts say the general has little time to prove himself a viable candidate given the start of the presidential primary season, which begins in mid-January.

The Clark announcement may slow the momentum of former Vermont Governor Howard Dean. His blunt-spoken criticism of President Bush and his fund-raising prowess have propelled him to the top of public opinion polls in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

General Clark's military resume could also cut into support for Massachusetts Senator John Kerry who has made his military service in Vietnam a key feature of his campaign.

Despite all the attention on the Democratic candidates, a new poll suggests President Bush would easily defeat any of his would-be challengers in next year's election. The national poll of more than 1200 registered voters was conducted by Quinnipiac University in Connecticut and found the president with at least a 10-point lead over each one of his Democratic rivals.