Danny Johnston  /  AP
Wesley Clark waves to supporters Wednesday in Little Rock, Ark., where he withdrew from the Democratic presidential nomination race.
updated 2/12/2004 9:00:32 AM ET 2004-02-12T14:00:32

In the end, Wesley Clark was unable to transfer the support he commanded as a four-star general to his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“This is the end of the campaign for the presidency,” Clark told supporters in his home state of Arkansas on Wednesday.

He coupled his withdrawal with words of praise for his remaining rivals — the front-runner, Sen. John Kerry, as well as Sen. John Edwards and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.

“They’re good men, they’re good Democrats and they’re good patriots,” said Clark, who decided to abandon his quest after finishing third behind Kerry and Edwards in Democratic primaries Tuesday in Virginia and Tennessee. “Our country is well-served” by them, he added.

He also used his campaign farewell to criticize President Bush, accusing him of pursuing a “fatally flawed” foreign policy.

“I am not anti-war, but I am pro-national security,” added the former general, a critic of the war in Iraq.

Military credentials
Clark, a 59-year-old career military man, burst onto the campaign last fall, supplanting his more experienced and better-known rivals at the top of the polls and demonstrating significant fund-raising ability.

The commanding general in NATO’s war in Kosovo in 1999, Clark anchored his political appearances with a pledge of “a higher standard of leadership” and spoke to campaign audiences often of service, duty and honor.

But his political inexperience showed — he articulated diametrically opposed positions on the war with Iraq within days of announcing his candidacy, for example, and was constantly refining his position on abortion.

Strategically, his first key decision was to bypass the kickoff Iowa caucuses in favor of the New Hampshire primary eight days later. Kerry’s surprise caucus triumph trumped Clark’s plan, and the former general faded to a distant third.

Clark’s only triumph in 14 caucuses and primaries came in Oklahoma last week, and Kerry’s twin victories in Virginia and Tennessee sealed his decision to withdraw. Clark finished second in Arizona, New Mexico and North Dakota — shining a light on what Democrats’ believe is Bush’s vulnerability on foreign policy.

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Difficult decision
Clark wrestled with the decision to end his campaign as election returns rolled in Tuesday night, with advisers urging him to quit and his family pushing him to continue.

Before deciding to exit, he thanked several hundred cheering backers at a downtown hotel.

“We’ll leave Tennessee even more full of hope and commitment than when we began this journey five months ago,” he said Tuesday. “We may have lost this battle today, but I tell you what, we’re not to lose the battle for America’s future.”

Aides said Clark would remain active in the campaign by stumping for Democrats in the South and other swing states and serving as an adviser on national security issues.

Southern roots, outsider status
In appealing to voters, Clark relied almost entirely on his 34 years in military service. Supporters touted other qualities — his Southern roots and his status as a Washington outsider — that they contended made Clark the candidate most likely to defeat Bush. Plus, he provided another forceful voice in condemning the war in Iraq, which he frequently called unnecessary, reckless and wrong.

“I would not have gone into Iraq in the first place,” he said. “My position was that Iraq was not an imminent threat. I would have concentrated on Osama bin Laden.”

Clark had enormous fund-raising success for a latecomer, raising nearly $15 million in 2003. He started January with at least $10 million left and the prospect of raising millions more.

Day after day of retail politicking in New Hampshire came to naught for Clark. He finished third in the nation’s first primary with just 12 percent of the vote, well behind Kerry and Dean and only slightly ahead of John Edwards. He was the choice of voters who considered terrorism or national security the top issue, but that was just one in 20.

Clark was born in Chicago in 1944 and grew up in Little Rock. His father died when he was 4. He finished first in his class at West Point, studied as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, earned a Silver Star for heroism in Vietnam, and served as a White House fellow.

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