Is there one more presidential candidate still to come? Democratic Party insiders are convinced that retired General Wesley Clark will soon announce a bid for the presidency. In fact their National Committee chairman, Terry McAuliffe, has even ordered an extra podium for him at the Sept. 25 debate among Democratic candidates in New York City.
Clark, for his part, has promised only to announce a decision by Sept. 19. He would start millions of dollars behind in funding and have to build a national-campaign organization virtually overnight. But his supporters insist the former NATO commander has enough grass-roots support (there are at least three "Draft Clark" movements on the Web) that catching up won't be a problem. They have already raised or won pledges for hundreds of thousands of dollars--enough to pay for TV ads in New Hampshire, Iowa and Clark's home state of Arkansas. And Clark's speeches have sounded suspiciously like campaign warm-ups. In an appearance at New York University last week, Clark wowed the crowd with his thoughts on Iraq (he opposed the war and now calls for U.N. involvement); impressions of the former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic; and a heartfelt call for mature, bipartisan debate in Washington. "I fought for the right of people to protest," he said. "I fought for the right to question the President."
But Clark (who has a book coming out this month) may yet pull what one Democratic strategist calls "a reverse Arnold": convincing everyone he's running, only to say he's not at the 11th hour. If so, he will disappoint a lot of Democrats, who think his four-star-general power is just what the party needs to bolster its credibility on national security. In any event, the whole will-he-or-won't-he exercise probably hasn't been in vain; if Clark doesn't run, he is certain to be short-listed as a vice-presidential candidate. Clark seems to be laying the groundwork for that role too. At N.Y.U., he was careful to note that he has "tremendous respect for all the candidates." --By Karen Tumulty and Mitch Frank