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Wesley Clark Quits Bid for Democratic Nomination - 2004-02-11

Retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark dropped out of the race for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination Wednesday, one day after disappointing finishes in primaries in Virginia and Tennessee. National correspondent Jim Malone has more on a nomination contest that is increasingly being dominated by Massachusetts Senator John Kerry.

General Clark made his formal withdrawal announcement in his hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas, where he thanked supporters and reminded them that he began his quest for the White House only five months ago.

"All we really had was hope, a lifetime of experience in leadership and a vision for America," he said. "And today, after traveling across the country, after visiting so many people, we have decided we are going to end this phase of the journey even more full of hope and even more committed to building a better America."

General Clark praised the three main Democratic contenders left in the field - Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, North Carolina Senator John Edwards and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean. But he did not endorse any of the candidates.

Two other Democrats, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich and New York civil rights activist Al Sharpton, also remain in the running but have received little support in the primaries and caucuses so far.

General Clark decided to withdraw after disappointing third-place showings in both Virginia and Tennessee on Tuesday. His only victory came in the Oklahoma primary last week.

With General Clark now out of the race, the next big test for front-runner John Kerry now looms in next Tuesday's primary in Wisconsin. Senator Edwards and former Governor Dean are both looking to slow the Kerry momentum and put themselves in a position to compete for delegates in the ten contests that will be held on March 2, the so-called "Super Tuesday" primaries.

Voter exit surveys from all the recent primaries indicate many Democrats are supporting Senator Kerry because they believe he would be the strongest candidate to run against President Bush in the November election.

But Howard Dean took issue with that notion as he spoke to supporters in Wisconsin. "I intend to support the Democratic nominee under any circumstances," he said. "I am just deeply disappointed that once again we may have to settle for the lesser of two evils."

Mr. Dean also lashed out at Senator Kerry Wednesday for being part of what he called "the corrupt political culture in Washington." The former Vermont governor is upset that former Senator Robert Torricelli of New Jersey, who raises money for the Kerry campaign, donated money to an independent group that ran negative television advertisements targeting Mr. Dean.

Most political experts now say that Senator Kerry is the likely nominee barring some sort of last-minute collapse.

Washington-based political expert Stuart Rothenberg says Senator Kerry now has the luxury of ignoring his remaining rivals and focusing instead on President Bush. "I think the one great asset that John Kerry has is the growing sense of inevitability in the nomination and this is a time to talk about unifying the party and this is the time to take on George W. Bush," he said.

Senator Kerry has won 12 of the 14 Democratic contests so far and his southern victories on Tuesday allow him to boast that he has won primaries or caucuses in virtually all major regions of the country.