Joe Conason's Journal

A source close to Wesley Clark rates the probability that Clark will run for president at "90 percent."

By Salon Staff

Published September 12, 2003 7:44PM (EDT)

Is Wes Clark getting to (90 percent) yes? Wesley Clark will reach a decision about whether to run for president over the coming weekend, according to a source who has been in close touch with him. When I asked for an educated guess as to whether the retired general's answer will be affirmative, that same source -- who has known him for more than a decade -- rated the probability of yes at "90 percent."

That is only one source, however reliable. But others who have observed Clark lately say that he seems to be preparing rigorously for the next Democratic candidates' debate on Sept. 25, focusing his studies on economic and domestic issues. And even insiders who are not so sanguine about a Clark candidacy agree that what they are hearing indicates he will run.

Clark has quietly approached top Democratic operatives in key primary states. One of New York's very best has agreed to run his campaign in a state whose primary often turns out to be critical. (No doubt that operative and others in New York City were pleased to discover that Clark's wife Gertrude is an Irish-American from Brooklyn.)

In order to for prepare next Friday's decisive speech in Iowa, he will need to have made a final choice by early next week at the latest.

The intense interest in Clark is obviously encouraging for worried Democratic activists seeking to draft him -- and potentially very troubling for the other Democratic candidates. Clark's entry into the primary race is expected to undermine the rationale for John Kerry's candidacy, at least in part, and to create competition for the disaffected Democrats lining up with Howard Dean.

Although Dean and his campaign team deserve praise for their creative, daring approach to presidential politics, they may have been tripped up by their own hubris in dealing with Clark. By publicizing his meetings with Clark -- and perhaps slightly exaggerating their significance -- Dean's team has created an awkward situation for the good doctor from Vermont. How will he campaign against a man whom he reportedly tried to lure onto his ticket? What will he offer voters as an argument to support him instead of Clark?

There are plausible answers: As a former governor, Dean has substantial domestic policymaking experience that Clark lacks, as well as a geographic base and an enormous, deeply committed corps of volunteers. He also has strong political skills and an original style. And of course, Dean has gathered far more money than Clark is likely to collect during the next few months (although Clark supporters insist that there are substantial donors waiting for him to declare).

Heavier moneybags, however, will hardly make the most attractive rationale for a populist campaign. And Dean should know better than anyone just how volatile this race has become in its early stages. It was too soon for him to offer something that isn't yet his to give -- if he did make such an offer -- and who knows? Maybe one day next August, he will be deciding whether he would like to run for vice president on the Clark ticket.

This hectic life, continuing next week

I will be on the air again next Monday afternoon, 1:15 p.m. Eastern, when I will join the mighty Michelangelo Signorile on his Sirius Satellite Radio program to discuss "Big Lies."
[12:30 p.m. PDT, September 12, 2003]

For your regular Joe, bookmark this link. To send an e-mail, click here.

Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------