Clark Exits Presidentail Race

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Wesley Clark, the novice politician with four-star military credentials, abandoned his presidential bid Tuesday after two third-place finishes in the South.

The retired Army general will return to Little Rock, Ark., on Wednesday to announce his departure from the race, said campaign spokesman Matt Bennett. Clark will pledge to work closely with the Democratic Party to support the presidential nominee and other candidates across the country.

"He made this decision after discussing it with his family and his staff," Bennett said. "It was a very difficult decision to make obviously. He did it after the final results were in for Tennessee and the decision is final."

He is the fifth Democrat to drop out of the race. Five remain: Front-runner John Kerry, John Edwards, Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton.

The news of Clark's departure broke shortly after he spoke to supporters, promising to keep waging fights on behalf of Democratic causes. Clark didn't know at the time he had finished third in Tennessee, along with his third-place finish in Virginia. The results sealed his fate.

New to politics, Clark may still have a future. At 59, he is young enough for another race and, with his military experience, he might fit on a wartime Democratic ticket.

Kerry said Clark ran a campaign that "he and his family can be proud of."

"He emphasized the importance of national security in this race against a wartime president," Kerry said in a statement. "He will no doubt continue to contribute to the life of our party and our country. We look forward to working with him to defeat George Bush and bring change to America."

Clark entered the race in September, a late start for a neophyte campaigner, but he quickly rose to the top of polls of Democrats and others considering an alternative to President Bush. He decided to skip the Iowa caucuses to focus all of his efforts on New Hampshire, a move that some friends and family now call a mistake.

In appealing to voters, Clark relied almost entirely on his 34 years in military service, which included serving as supreme allied commander of NATO. He promoted his wartime record, from being wounded in Vietnam in 1970 to running the bombing campaign in the war in Kosovo in 1999, as the kind of experience needed with American soldiers in Iraq (news - web sites) and concerns about security at home.

Supporters touted other qualities — his Southern roots and his status as a Washington outsider — they contended that 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."

For a latecomer, Clark had enormous fund-raising success. He raised nearly $15 million in 2003 and started January with at least $10 million left and the prospect of raising nearly $1 million per week as the first elections neared.

Yet Clark's inexperience as a candidate caused him problems. On the first full day of his campaign, Clark said he probably would have voted for the Bush-backed Iraq resolution but then, a day later, insisted he never would have voted "for this war." His supporters were left confused while his detractors grew elated. Questions about his stand on the war in Iraq never ceased.

"I bobbled the question," he later told The Associated Press. "Even Rhodes scholars make mistakes."

Still, he won Oklahoma's primary, and finished second in Arizona, New Mexico, North Dakota — shining a light on what Democrats' believe is Bush's vulnerability on foreign policy.

Another rub following Clark was whether he was a Republican at heart and a Democrat only by necessity. He explained that, as a military man, he did not have a party affiliation. On the other hand, he had voted for Republican presidents, had complimented Bush, and had considered joining the GOP after retirement.

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 turned to the South and West, regions where veterans were plentiful. But by then Kerry had perfected his appeal to their brothers in arms and had taken on the aura of a consensus candidate for those determined to select a winner against Bush.

Clark was born in Chicago in 1944 and grew up in Little Rock, Ark. 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.