Anyone for Wes?

Wesley Clark may be reemerging as the Anyone-but-Dean candidate.

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It makes sense that Wesley Clark, having decided to skip the Iowa caucuses, was a no-show at Sunday’s Iowa debate. And since the Democratic debates seem to have devolved into raucous shout-fests, Clark may have calculated, probably correctly, that staying above the fray could only work to his advantage. Clark’s absence certainly won him some attention, which in turn fed the growing sense, bolstered by his recent money-raising success, that the former general may be emerging as the Anyone-but-Dean candidate.

The Chicago Tribune makes the case for a
Clark victory
in the debate:

“The Democratic presidential candidate who benefited most from the debate Sunday afternoon might well have been retired Gen. Wesley Clark. He wasn’t there.
Instead, he spent his time doing an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” with a much larger viewing audience, serving pancakes and holding small forums with potential voters in New Hampshire, a place where he hopes to have a surprisingly strong finish. It was perhaps time better spent.”

Many politicos cite Clark, with his strong national security credentials, as the candidate best positioned to unseat Bush. He started out strong in September, of course, then blundered his way into the middle of the pack. A new CNN-Time poll shows Dean doing better than Clark (46 percent to 32 percent) and Dean doing the best of all nine candidates in match-ups with President Bush (though still trailing: Bush 51 percent to Dean 46 percent).

Still, Clark may be making a comeback. He’s pulled in more cash, $10.5 million, than any candidate but Dean over the past three months, and he’s using some of it to outbuy his rivals in television advertisements in many states.

In a statement issued last Thursday, Clark lays out what many Democrats already feel: he’s the only candidate that could stand up to President Bush:

“It’s now clear that I’m one of only two candidates in a position to win the nomination”. “And I’m the only candidate positioned to actually win the election because I am the candidate best able to stand up to George W. Bush and win the debate about who will best be able to make our country secure over the next four years.”

Well, he would say that. But Clark’s argument is serious for the Democrats, who fear a reprise, in Dean’s candidacy, of George McGovern’s disastrous run against Richard Nixon. The Arkansas News Bureau explains that Clark’s appeal as a centrist Democrat, his association with Clinton politics (a recent ad shows Clinton with Clark), and his appeal to the south—might just make him the “anti-Dean” candidate the party is hoping for:

“It now appears [Clark]’s regained a bit of body mass for what should become a one-on-one bout with Howard Dean, a noted and rather stout former wrestler.

Clark made another tactical move last week. He unveiled a television commercial showing Bill Clinton putting a medal around his neck. It was designed to send a message that even if Clinton doesn’t formally endorse him, the former president certainly exhibits no aversion to him – and vice versa.

Dick Gephardt, John Kerry, John Edwards, Joe Lieberman – they’re spinning their wheels. There will be traction only for one anti-Dean, and the general was getting it last week.”

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