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Monday, Sept. 29

OPEN FOR BUSINESS

It looks like the campaign is turning its wheels a little faster now. Sure sign? Responding to news in the form of press releases delivered conveniently to my inbox. And Clark had a few things to say about the poverty statistics released on Friday: “When I released my job creation plan, I said that tax cuts for the rich were making Americans poor. Today, the Census Bureau reported just how poor those tax cuts are making America’s families. ... Since President Bush took office, the number of poor Americans has increased by 3 million. Some 1.7 million people descended into poverty in 2002 alone, according to Census figures. ... Meanwhile, in the three years under Mr. Bush, the American economy has lost more than 3 million private-sector jobs. ... With a record like this, he shouldn’t be running for president, he should be running for the hills. ... The best antipoverty program is a job. And that’s why as president my top priority will be to create jobs for America’s families.”

ON THE TRAILMonday: Appearances in Austin and Wichita Falls, Texas.

Friday, Sept. 26

THE ALLEGIANCE QUESTIONOut of the bubble of eight days of all Wesley Clark all the time, it suddenly became clear to this embed that there is a real, palpable curiosity about this new guy from Arkansas. He held court at the beginning of the CNBC debate, defending his reasons for being a Democrat after Brian Williams hit hard in the beginning with a pointed question. Does the campaign think that the “Republican in Democrat’s clothing” line has legs? Press secretary Kym Spell doesn’t think so. “It’s done.” But I have a sneaking suspicion that although he answered it well in this national forum, this is territory not fully covered yet. Clark from the debate: “When I needed to speak out, there was only one party to come to.” To me, afterwards, he didn’t seem at all annoyed by the first question. It sounded as if he had rehearsed that one in debate preps. I missed the spin room, as the general chose to stay above the fray and let his spokesman deflect questions.

WHO WON?Who won the debate? Well, from the general perspective I think the curiosity factor attached to him gave him a window to just keep his thoughts focused on what he had practiced right out of the starting gates. From all accounts in the audience and in the press room, his first impression was strong. We will have to see whether his answers on other questions are forgivable because, as he said, he is a 9-day-old politician, or if it felt like he was spinning his wheels. Clearly, it would be nice to have more policy speeches to roll out before he can answer more specifics on health care and Social Security to Ron Insana and Gloria Borga. But I would argue that he got a pass for being the new kid on the block.

BACKSTAGE

Meanwhile, he was meeting high-rolling fund-raisers in his dressing room after the debate and taking time to give the guard assigned to his door an autographed copy of his new book, due out on Monday. I am sure any spin could show up in the papers so I am glad I snagged him on stage to ask what he thought about the debate and all the suspense surrounding his appearance. “Oh, I think that was just an opening question just sort of to get the discussion up. I think everyone knows that I have been non-partisan my entire life until I joined this party. I only joined it 10 days ago. And I think it’s very clear what I believe. But I also believe it’s very important that people in the U.S. armed forces understand (that) the armed forces don’t belong to any political party. ... Individuals can belong to a party if they choose ... I never did choose to.”

MONEY, MONEY, MONEY

He had a much more relaxed time in a more soothing and praise-filled session with the DNC dinner folks and of course he was surrounded by some heavy hitters, one of whom told me this week has been a boon for fund-raising for Clark. Alan Patrikopf and his wife, Susan, were fund-raising quite eagerly this week at a number of events and Clark was already dropping Patrikopf’s name as his man “who’s helping me up here in New York.” The Patrikopfs have one of the biggest venture capital firms in the country and he is a long time Democratic fund-raiser and Clintonite.

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GERTRUDE CLARKMrs. Clark appeared by the general’s side, looking energized but as the evening wore on into the night at the after party, she also was clearly ready to rest. She is not quite ready to comment on camera on her husband, she told me, but she said it would be soon. She very much played traffic cop at the post-debate party, helping Clark navigate through the mosh pit. He was also very quick to introduce her to as many people as he could. “My wife is from Brooklyn,” became a standard line to all the New Yorkers he met.

A ROLLICKING CROWD

At the mosh pit that was the young professionals gathering, Clark told the clearly buzzed late night crowd he was born in Chicago “naked and alone.” Go figure ...

ON THE TRAILFriday and Saturday: New Hampshire appearances.

Thursday, Sept. 25

JOBS PROPOSALClark, in a burst of pre-debate energy, rolled out a new policy on creating jobs. The campaign was quick to highlight the “fiscal discipline” of the proposal. Their highlighted points:

Create a Homeland and Economic Security Fund of $40 billion over two years. The fund will both create jobs and boost America’s defenses by improving port security, investing in critical infrastructure and better equipping first-responders.

Create a state and local Tax Rebate Fund of $40 billion over two years. The rebate fund would return money to localities, lessening the need to raise property taxes, fees and university tuition and giving the economy room to create more jobs.

Provide $20 billion in business tax incentives over two years. Clark’s plan would give businesses a tax credit of up to $5,000 for every new employee hired in 2004 and 2005.

‘TODAY’The campaign was thrilled with Clark’s “Today” show appearance reacting to Bush’s speech. ( He is the flavor of the month — sorry, Dean fans.) His reaction had him including a new dig at Bush. “He really laid down the marker of the kinds of tragic arrogance that this administration’s represented in its conduct in the international community.” On the dust-up from last week and the poll numbers, I can safely say his answers were smooth. This is a man who could quite possibly be turning into that politician we were all looking for last week. That said, now his statements will be crisp and to the point. ... at least that is what is campaign is hoping for.

DEBATE PREPIt should be no surprise that there are some pretty high fliers advising Clark for the debate. He was being advised in person and via phone today by, shocker, some former Clinton bigwigs, some of whom are his acting economic advisers but are not necessarily (at this stage) throwing their full support behind Clark.

Wednesday, Sept. 24

TARGET: WESLEY CLARKPress Secretary Kym Spell told me that Clark is walking into the Thursday CNBC debate with a “pretty big target on his back,” considering he has beat everyone in the latest polls, including Bush. That said, the general would like to tell his own story, which Spell says is a more average-American story than that of any of the other candidates. She also argued, “No one knows who he is,” and said this allows him to come in and explain why he is running, and why his past experiences can help turn around the economy. Possible these comments were a preview of a jobs speech?

CLARK FACTS1) The general’s son is a screenwriter in Los Angeles. 2) He and his wife, Astrid, are expecting a baby at the end of the year. 3) Clark and his wife, Gert, used to have a Cocker Spaniel named Muffin. 4) Clark was wounded in four places during the Vietnam War.

REACTION TO BUSH’S U.N. SPEECH“The president did great damage to our decades-old international coalitions with his Iraq War policy. Now the president is asking those same nations to help him rebuild Iraq with their money and their troops. No one can be surprised that the president is having a hard time convincing other nations to cooperate now. This demonstrates just how badly the president has handled the Iraq situation from the start.”

Tuesday, Sept. 23

MOBY’S PICK?

Here I thought Cher was going to be the artist of choice for Clark and little did I know that Moby was still shopping for a candidate. When I saw him at a New York fund-raiser for Clark, I was a bit curious as to why the artist who last week was giving a fund-raising concert for Kerry showed up at another one, quite close to the first, in Greenwich Village. He told me he was “just curious about all the candidates,” and, regarding his support for Kerry, he was “still trying to figure out who had the best chance against George Bush in November 2004.” Is there a potential Moby fund-raiser in the general’s future? “At this point, I don’t know.” Oh and just to add, Bianca Jagger scurried away from one of the fund-raisers as well.

SPEAKING OF MONEY

As reported by the Associated Press, the $750,000 raised in the first few days is sure to get some more impressive figures added to it with the pledges promised by the draft movements. The campaign, said the communications director Kym Spell, will probably come out with money numbers next week just as the other presidential candidates are releasing their third-quarter results. Of course, if they raise a lot in a short time then it’s sure to create a stir against Dean’s expected news of a big third quarter. The fund-raisers Monday night were described by the campaign, as high-level, mid-level and a young professionals event. All three were held at private homes in New York City. I spoke with the host of the high rollers event, Sally Minard, who heads up the Woman’s Leadership Council for the DNC, and she told me the 150 or so guests “were ready to like him and they loved him.” Those guests gave $2,000 to attend the event at her East Side home. That said, she is holding out her endorsement as a member of the DNC until March. The host of the young professionals event had to turn away a good number of people at the front door of her townhome where she packed in over 250 people. The doctor gleefully said at the end of the night, “He even looks like a Republican!” Most of the comments for the evening to me had the word “energized” intertwined with thoughts on the new addition to the presidential candidates. One gentleman told me the interest in Clark was ripe. “ People care because they are still hungry.”

CLINTON WEBI have not purposely been trying to keep tabs on the Clinton tentacles in this campaign, although I probably should, considering the hints that keep coming my way. For example, Monday at the Citadel, I asked how the general got an invitation to speak there. A representative for the Citadel came back and told me it was an invitation extended by Philip Lader, a visiting professor at the Citadel and former ambassador to Great Britain under, you guessed it, President Clinton.

ON THE TRAIL

Tuesday: Speaking to students at DePauw University, Greencastle, Ind.

Monday, Sept. 22

THE NEWSWEEK POLLThe campaign is happy about Newsweek’s latest poll that shows Clark leading all Democratic contenders with 14 percent of the vote. John Hlinko, co-founder of Draftwesleyclark.com, told local television that he was not surprised by the numbers. He accredited it to the strong support for the Draft Clark movement over the last few months and said the movement was looking forward to Clark “leading the charge.” But a sizable percentage of those polled (45 percent) say they’ve never heard of Clark before now, the poll shows.

ON THE TRAILMonday: In Charleston, S.C., with appearances at Manny’s Restaurant and before Citadel cadets.

Saturday, Sept. 20

FLIPPING, THEN FLOPPING, THEN …The story of the day was the Clark flip-flop on the war vote, but the campaign staffers that were traveling with him were adamant that it was a clarification. Unfortunately in their bubble they missed that indeed it played out as a flip-flop. It went a little something like this: The New York Times quoted Clark as saying he probably would have voted yes to give Bush authorization to go to war. I asked the same question for clarification and I got this on camera: “I said I probably would have done that. The reason is it gave important leverage to internationalize the opportunity ... the response to Saddam Hussein. So, it wasn’t a bad tactical move but I also have said many times there was no urgency, there was no imminent threat that justified going to war like we did.” Sounds like no flip-flop to me, but, weeell, then when I asked him for further clarification, he said this to me on camera right before the lecture: “I would have never voted for war. I never believed there was an imminent threat from Iraq that justified an attack by the United States on Iraq. That evidence just wasn’t out there. I’d never seen it when I was in uniform and I’m a soldier, I understand what war entails. And when you go in in war, you blow things up, you kill people, you do things that can never be repaired and you always have unpredictable consequences so war is the last resort, never because it looks like its doable or easy. Because it seldom works out that way. So I would have never voted for war. I would have voted for leverage and ... that’s the leverage to go to the United Nations and convince the United Nations to move forward, to take aim, take a serious look at Iraq and try to reinstitute the inspection program. Because Saddam Hussein was a tough-minded guy and he wasn’t gonna give in easily to this. So you had to have the threat of force behind it to do that.”

ANOTHER VERSION

And not to beat a good story into the ground but shortly thereafter, the general reiterated his comments during the question time of his lecture. And the Associated Press noted this: “Let’s make one thing real clear, I would never have voted for this war. ... I’ve gotten a very consistent record on this. There was no imminent threat. This was not a case of pre-emptive war. I would have voted for the right kind of leverage to get a diplomatic solution, an international solution to the challenge of Saddam Hussein.” And with sigh of relief, a traveling member of the campaign said that final response on stage to that Times story was “a home run for the General.” Final might be a relative term.

CATCHING UP WITH THE ALBUQUERQUE DEBATE

Apparently a legitimate debate question, we had to get this nugget out sooner than later. Clark’s favorite song is Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Your My Land.” His explanation: “There is something about that song, I used to to hear it a lot when I was growing up ... there is something about that song that says this country belongs to all of us. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, or who your parents were or how long you’ve lived here. This is our land.” Not to worry, it’s not the official campaign song but he says it resonates with him.

HE TALKS TO ME

His thoughts on the crux of this election: “This election is about good government, fundamentally. Set aside the war on terror, that’s very important — we want to be safe and secure. Set aside the economy — we’ve got a deal with it, we’ve got to create jobs, but all that not withstanding, fundamentally we’ve have to protect the government and the system, with a pluralist democracy that provides the rights for the minority, the will of the majority for our future generations. That’s the issues that I see lurking in this campaign.”

THE U OF IOWA LECTURE CLIFF NOTESQuite an academic speech on foreign policy: where we have been and where we are going in terms of American leadership. Walking out of the lecture I heard a woman exclaim, “he is more articulate on foreign policy than the entire Bush administration.”

Friday, Sept. 19

I GOT YOU, GENERAL?Yes, folks, Kerry might have Moby, Graham might have Jimmy Buffet, but Clark might very well have ... Cher. At least that’s who came calling via phone to ask how she could support Clark. Imagine the possibilities ... imagine the costume changes!

HERE WE GO AGAINAnother candidate, another campaign headquarters ... uh, not exactly quite yet. Let me take you to a legitimate work in progress. In the office of Wesley K. Clark & Associates, the madness had begun for the day long before I arrived. First thing to note, they need some more space: They are hunting for properties for their national headquarters in Little Rock but that is not stopping them from their work. The floor, the chairs, an RV pulled up in the yard, everywhere is a place to work, to plan. Volunteers stopped by all day. Frantic was the word that kept popping into my head. The general was focused — coming out of his office infrequently. When he did, he said hello but it was clear that I was on his turf and his turf meant he was working, I was visiting and there was no way he was taking questions. So no “plain and simple language” for me today. But I did get a warm reception to the idea of an embed from all involved with the campaign, including the general himself. Midday, with little flourish, he headed out with a small group to wing their way to Florida. He left the troops still introducing themselves to one another and figuring out roles and responsibilities.

DRAFT VS. CLARK

The 48-hour-old campaign still has no formal campaign manager but there are lots of cooks in the kitchen. A small group is running the show and the leaders of the draft Clark movement with various Web site affiliations are already jockeying for position, anxiously waiting to define their roles.

FAMILY NOTE

Wes Clark Jr. (the General’s only child) was married this summer to a young woman named Astrid (who attended the announcement yesterday) and the ceremony was on a boat going around the Statue of Liberty. A bigger celebration was held back in Little Rock later. Both husband and wife are graduates of Georgetown University.

TODAY ON THE TRAIL

Speaking at the University of Iowa.

Thursday, Sept. 18

GETTING THE WORD OUT

Now that he has announced that, yes, the general is marching, I mean running, spokesman Mark Fabiani says the campaign is working with the leadership of the draft movements to form the various entities of the campaign. There is a laundry list of Web sites associated with the movement that are already clamoring to get on board.

THE CLOCK IS TICKINGThe announcement event itself was well-organized in terms of advance but the campaign needs to focus on press relations. Wednesday, for all the flags and signs, was not smooth when journalists were looking for a campaign spokesman and coming up empty. They have only a small window of time to look slick and get on the right track — something they are readily aware of, according to a campaign source.

QUICK TURNAROUNDThere was no denying that Wednesday’s event was still a work in progress when we arrived to set up our live position. Old Clinton/Gore advance folks, former White House aides, gleefully left their jobs for the day when, as one put it, “we got the call.” Risers were in short supply, flags were at a premium, but they stayed up all night finishing off various parts. The massive banner “America for Clark” was finished at 5 a.m. And even in the rush there was a thought not to waste anything — on the back, waiting for its big moment in the future? “Arkansas for Clark.”

THE MOVEMENT BECOMES THE CAMPAIGNThe Draft Clark movement has been readily accepted within the campaign. They were included in the conference calls yesterday and Clark himself cited them as one of the major reasons he was swayed to run. Can’t say that I blame him, it’s basically a fan club that is screaming for more work —- and he needs it. Where www.draftwesleyclark.comfocused on endorsements and fund-raising, www.draftwesleyclark2004.comwas focused on troops on the ground. All of which he will need in great supply. But Clark already has a clue … at the end of his speech Wednesday, he certainly did not forget to mention his friends and the support he needs in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

WHAT TO EXPECT NEXTWith no voting record to scrutinize, no long-term business background to delve into, everything out of Clark’s mouth will be closely monitored to see if the straight talk,and honest debate he so dearly wants to engage in will make him a viable candidate with real issues and real solutions.

MSNBC’s Marisa Buchanan is embedded with the presidential campaign of retired Gen. Wesley Clark.

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