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Clark’s Endorsement of Kerry Is Expected Today

Times Staff Writers

Retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark, who quit the Democratic presidential race this week, intends to endorse Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts today at a campaign stop in Wisconsin, party sources said Thursday.

Clark, who ended his candidacy after finishing third in Tuesday’s Virginia and Tennessee primaries, was coy about his plans during an interview Thursday on CNN. Acknowledging that he was “going to see” Kerry today, Clark said he would be “moving the ball forward for the American people.” But he did not confirm the endorsement.

“I’m really happy about where we’ve ended up on this,” Clark said in the interview. “We’ve got a strong field in the Democratic Party, and we’ve got some huge issues to take to the American people.”

The Kerry campaign declined to comment on the pending endorsement. The senator, whose wins in the Tennessee and Virginia primaries gave him 12 victories in 14 contests, spent Wednesday and Thursday in Washington and attended no public events.

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One Democratic source said Clark’s support was “a clear signal that Democrats are coalescing around the Kerry candidacy.”

Aides to Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, two of Kerry’s remaining rivals, discounted the importance of a Clark endorsement. But Dean, campaigning in Madison, Wis., appealed to Clark supporters.

“I ask for your help, because Wes Clark and I have one thing in common: We are both not from Washington, D.C.,” Dean said.

Roy Neel, Dean’s campaign chairman, said Thursday he believed Dean would attract many Clark supporters. “All these voters of every candidate, when their guys get out, step back and say, ‘Who do I like?’ not ‘Who does he like?’ ” Neel said. “To a certain extent, I think voters will see [Clark’s endorsement] as jumping on the bandwagon. I think Clark voters will think for themselves.”

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Since Dean lost last month’s nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire -- states where he once led in the polls -- he has focused on reviving his candidacy with a strong showing in Tuesday’s Wisconsin primary.

Edwards spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri said the senator called Clark on Wednesday to wish him well. She added that Edwards “has a lot of respect for Gen. Clark.... He believes voters are very independent-thinking and are going to make up their own minds, particularly in a presidential election. He doesn’t think endorsements have had much impact on this race.”

That proved the case for Dean, who late last year attracted an array of support from unions and well-known Democratic officials, including former Vice President Al Gore. Some analysts believe the endorsements hurt Dean by muddling his image as a political insurgent; at the least, the endorsements did little to stem his political decline.

Clark would be the second former Democratic contender to support Kerry. Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, who was supported heavily by organized labor, quit after a poor showing in the Jan. 19 Iowa caucuses. Gephardt endorsed Kerry last week.

Former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun dropped out shortly before the Iowa vote and threw her support to Dean.

As he campaigned Thursday, Dean railed against what he described as a rush to coronate Kerry as the Democratic nominee before most states -- including California -- have held their primaries. Dean asked Wisconsin voters to help stop the wave of momentum that is propelling Kerry.

“The media would like to end this candidacy,” Dean said in Oshkosh. “They claim the contest is over. They say your voice doesn’t matter; they say your vote doesn’t count. They expect you to rubber-stamp the choice of others. You don’t have to listen to them.”

Dean began his day by striking a more moderate tone than he had Wednesday, when he attacked Kerry. By late afternoon, however, he called Kerry and Edwards establishment politicians who did not represent ordinary Americans.

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“We did not come all this way to substitute one Washington insider for another,” Dean said at the University of Wisconsin. “We came this way to change America, to fundamentally change this country.”

Dean insisted he was not attacking his rivals, even as he took another swing at them.

“I’m not going to go after Sen. Kerry and Sen. Edwards,” he said. “They’re good people, but they come from inside Washington. It’s another world. It’s not a world that has much relevance to ordinary Americans. It’s a world that’s forgotten working people, left them behind.”

Dean also reprised the issue that first fueled his candidacy: “If the Democrats [in Washington] had stood up to George W. Bush, our folks wouldn’t be in Iraq right now and we would still be the moral leader of the world.”

Dean -- who has complained that rivals have pirated his rhetoric -- cribbed a signature Edwards line. “We can have a country where we are one, where there are not two Americas -- one for the poor and one for everybody else,” he said.

Also taking on Kerry on Thursday was Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican National Committee. In a speech in Reno, he charged that Kerry and his campaign aides had “made clear they intend to run the dirtiest campaign in modern presidential politics.”

The Kerry campaign called Gillespie’s accusations an example of “inaccurate, negative attacks” by Republicans.

Times staff writer Nick Anderson contributed to this report.

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