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Clark Backs Kerry in US Presidential Race - 2004-02-13

Senator John Kerry, the front-runner for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, picked up an endorsement from another former rival Friday. Retired General Wesley Clark threw his support behind the Massachusetts senator at a campaign stop in Wisconsin, site of the next major primary on Tuesday.

General Clark says he admires Senator Kerry's service in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War, and says Mr. Kerry will be able to go "toe-to-toe" with President Bush on national security issues, if he is the Democratic Party's presidential nominee.

"John Kerry has been the kind of leader America needs," he said. "He will stand up to the Republican attack dogs, and send them home, licking their wounds."

General Clark dropped out of the Democratic primary race after disappointing finishes in the Virginia and Tennessee primaries on Tuesday. Senator Kerry was previously endorsed by another former rival, Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt.

Senator Kerry told supporters at a rally in Madison, Wisconsin, that he plans to fight hard against President Bush, if he becomes the Democratic nominee. "In order to ask you, together with Wes Clark and with [former presidential candidate] Dick Gephardt and others to help us change the radical course George Bush has put this country on and begin to set America back to work, back to its place of respect and leadership in the world," he said.

Senator Kerry's pledge to fight off Republican attacks comes in the wake of the release of a video from the Bush campaign Web site. The video criticizes the veteran Massachusetts senator for taking contributions from some of the very same special interests and lobbying groups that he condemns on the campaign trail: "Facts. Kerry, brought to you by the special interests. Millions [of dollars in contributions] from executives at HMOs [health insurance groups], telecoms [telecommunications companies], drug companies. Ka-ching! Unprincipled?"

With the White House now taking aim at Senator Kerry as the presumptive Democratic nominee, political analyst Craig Crawford is predicting a long and bitter campaign between now and November.

Speaking on CBS television, Mr. Crawford said, "But it also shows that we are off to the races big time. I mean, this is going to be the longest, meanest, most expensive campaign we have ever seen in history. It is war and peace, this campaign."

Senator Kerry hopes to maintain his momentum toward the Democratic Party nomination with a win in Tuesday's primary in Wisconsin. North Carolina Senator John Edwards and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean are both looking to slow him down in Wisconsin, but public opinion polls indicate Senator Kerry has a healthy lead at the moment.