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Clark to participate in debate

/ Source: The Associated Press

They said yes. Then no. Now it’s yes again: Wesley Clark will participate in next week’s Democratic presidential debate after all, his campaign said.

CLARK WILL accept the invitation to next Thursday’s debate via a letter to Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe carried by several members of a draft-Clark group, a senior campaign official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

The letter will be delivered Friday, weather permitting, the official said.

On Thursday, Clark aide Barbara Leyton called the Democratic National Committee and said the retired general would participate in the debate and the party’s fund-raising dinner afterward. But other campaign officials said she was wrong; Clark had not decided to attend.

Two Democratic presidential rivals challenged Clark to be in the debate, increasing pressure on the retired general who has had little to say about domestic policies.

The debate, the second in a series of six sponsored by the DNC, will focus on economic issues. It will be broadcast live on CNBC.

But campaign spokeswoman Holly Johnson said Clark has a contract to give a paid speech in Texas at the same time the nine other Democratic candidates plan to debate economic issues in New York.

The campaign is refusing to say who Clark, a retired four-star general who entered the race Wednesday, is supposed to address. It wasn’t immediately clear who was paying Clark or how he adjusted his schedule to accommodate the debate.

Earlier Thursday, Clark aide Barbara Leyton called the Democratic National Committee and said the retired general would participate in the debate and the party’s fund-raising dinner afterward, said DNC spokeswoman Debra DeShong.

Clark aide Donnie Fowler later said Leyton is one of many people who are working for Clark, but she didn’t have the correct information when she called the party to accept the debate invitation. Fowler, who ran Al Gore’s field operation in 2000, said he doesn’t have a title with the campaign, but officials speaking on a condition of anonymity said he would be its manager.

The debate is the second in a series of six being sponsored by the Democratic National Committee. It will broadcast live on CNBC.

Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman’s campaign on Thursday challenged Clark to participate.

“The economy is going to be arguably the most important topic that will be discussed this entire political season,” said Lieberman spokesman Jano Cabrera. “Surely the general can change his schedule to discuss this issue with the American people.”

Jim Jordan, campaign manager for Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, said, “I think all Democrats will be disappointed if General Clark passes on an opportunity on national television to lay out his policies for making the American economy stronger and fairer.”

Mark Fabiani, strategist for Clark, said that Kym Spell, former New Hampshire press secretary for John Kerry, is joining the Clark press office in Arkansas. Jordan said Spell, who quit the Kerry campaign this week, denied she was going to work for Clark but was nonetheless given five minutes to clean out her office. Spell, who was deputy communications director for Gore’s 2000 campaign, could not be reached for comment.

Spell’s departure comes one week after Kerry communications director Chris Lehane resigned. Lehane is Fabiani’s longtime business associate, but said he is focused on his consulting business in California.

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