updated 2/4/2004 1:30:39 PM ET 2004-02-04T18:30:39

Democratic presidential hopeful Wesley Clark, appearing energized Wednesday by his first election victory, questioned policy positions of his major rivals while focusing his campaign on the Tennessee primary next week.

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Clark narrowly defeated John Edwards in Oklahoma while Edwards won the South Carolina primary. John Kerry, the leader in victories and delegates, won the five other states that had elections Tuesday. Without naming names, Clark reminded patrons at a Memphis diner of both senators’ support for policies they have come to assail.

“They’re criticizing No Child Left Behind — they voted for it,” he said. “They’re criticizing the tax cuts — they voted for ’em. They’re criticizing the war in Iraq — they voted for it. They’re criticizing the Patriot Act — they voted for it.”

The Oklahoma victory breathed new life into the Clark campaign. After flipping pancakes at the diner, the retired Army general leaped atop the counter and told patrons, “It’s great to be here in Tennessee, but I want to say, Oklahoma is OK.”

Tennessee and Virginia hold primaries on Tuesday, but aides said Clark was concentrating on Tennessee, where he was expected to face strong competition from Edwards.

Clark celebrated his Oklahoma victory Tuesday night, telling supporters, “As an old soldier from Arkansas, I just couldn’t be prouder of your support in the first election I’ve ever won.”

“Today, across the country, Democrats went to the polls and tonight the people have spoken, and the message they sent couldn’t be clearer: America wants a higher standard of leadership in Washington,” he said.

Clark placed a distant second to Kerry in Arizona and North Dakota. He finished well behind Kerry in New Mexico but just ahead of Howard Dean.

Slideshow: On the campaign trail Clark narrowly won Oklahoma with support of voters looking for a candidate with the right experience and among those who said standing up for beliefs was most important, exit polls showed. But he lost to Edwards among those who valued a positive message and those who wanted someone who cared about people like them. He lost to Kerry among those who most valued the ability to beat President Bush.

On the issues, Clark won among those who picked education, health care or national security as their top concern. But he lost to Edwards among the bulk of voters who cited the economy.

Clark, a former NATO supreme commander, had stressed his Southern roots throughout the campaign but forfeited South Carolina to Edwards, who was born there, to concentrate his campaign efforts on Oklahoma, Arizona and New Mexico.

“I’m not part of the Washington problem,” Clark said. “I did not vote for No Child Left Behind. I did not vote to go to war in Iraq. I did not vote, ever, to cut veterans benefits. You can go on and on and on.”

Before the returns came in Tuesday night, Clark’s son, Wesley Clark Jr., expressed bitter disappointment in his father’s first experience with electoral politics, criticizing the news media, political pundits and others.

“It’s really been disillusioning,” the 34-year-old Clark told reporters. “You go out and see the way politics really works. It is a dirty business filled with a lot of people pretending to be a lot of things they are not.”

Still, the younger Clark said he had great respect for his father’s effort.

“He did his best,” he said.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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