Saturday, September 27, 2003

Howard's not exactly "Joe Lieberman desperate," but he's hearing some footsteps...

Clark's Bid Prompts Some Dean Supporters to Reconsider

DOVER, N.H., Sept. 27 -- New Hampshire Democrat Larry Taylor was leaning toward supporting former Vermont governor Howard Dean for president until he turned out on a damp Friday night at New England College in Henniker, N.H., to see retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark. By the time Clark had finished his town hall meeting, Taylor was ready to change his allegiance.

"I think Clark can win," Taylor said. "I don't think Dean can win. I think Dean's going to be pegged as too liberal. He doesn't have the kind of military background and some of the strength that Clark seems to have."

Whatever else Clark's late entry into the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination has done, it has forced the issue of electability back to the top of the agenda for many Democratic and independent voters.

His candidacy threatens all of the other nine Democrats in the race in some respect, but here in New Hampshire, where Dean has risen to the top of the field, it has changed the dynamic of a race that, until now, was shaped principally by the former Vermont governor.

Dean has prospered in the Democratic race on the strength of his opposition to the war in Iraq, and because he captured earlier than any of the other candidates the deep anger among Democrats toward Bush. Clark's candidacy appears to have prompted many voters, some of them Dean supporters but particularly those still undecided, to think again.

Peter Lehmen and his wife, Theresa, of Keene, N.H., attended Clark's town hall meeting late Friday. Lehmen has given money to Dean and credits the scrappy Vermonter with having the courage to take on Bush and start a dialogue among the Democrats that has shaped both the tone and the substance of the debate. "He was talking about things that other people were afraid to talk about," Lehmen said.

Lately, however, both Lehmens have begun to question whether Dean is the best Democrat to beat Bush. Peter said he finds Dean inconsistent in some of his views. Theresa said Dean is "coming across as a little more abrasive" and appears to let his ego get in his way. Clark, she said, impressed her as someone who could successfully negotiate with foreign leaders. "He certainly presented himself in a very diplomatic but forceful way that I would call presidential," she said. ...

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