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Clark Showcases Mixed Bag of Backers in New Hampshire

Times Staff Writer

Sharing the stage with an eclectic group of supporters -- including liberal activist and filmmaker Michael Moore, a former Navy secretary and several Clinton administration officials -- Democratic presidential hopeful Wesley K. Clark on Saturday drew one of the largest crowds of his campaign.

Today, Clark is expected to pick up another endorsement -- that of former senator and presidential candidate George McGovern.

Meanwhile, polls in New Hampshire show Clark in second place behind Howard Dean.

When the retired Army general visited this town in the mid-afternoon, 2,000 people jammed the Pembroke Academy gymnasium to see the candidate and his unlikely stage mates.

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“The peacenik for the general!” the frequently provocative Moore shouted, to raucous cheers.

Moore, director of the Academy Award-winning documentary “Bowling for Columbine” and author of the recent book “Dude, Where’s My Country?”, recounted how he became intrigued by Clark after the general defended Moore for his much-criticized Oscar acceptance speech.

In the speech, Moore lambasted President Bush and criticized the war in Iraq. When Clark and Moore were on a TV show a few days later, Clark said of Moore’s comments: “I believe in dissent.”

Although he led the crowd through a spirited accounting of why he supported Clark, Moore also swiftly put the candidate in an awkward position as he described his interpretation of a general election contest between Clark and Bush.

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Adopting the dramatic voice of a boxing announcer, Moore cried: “The General versus the Deserter!”

Asked later if he shared Moore’s view that Bush was a deserter, Clark said: “I’ve heard those charges. I don’t know whether they’re established or not. He was never prosecuted for it.”

Bush served as a pilot in the Texas National Guard during the Vietnam War, a relatively safe posting.

In 1972, Bush was allowed to transfer to the Alabama National Guard for three months so he could work on the campaign of a Senate candidate there.

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Clark served in Vietnam, where he was wounded and awarded the Silver Star.

In addition to Moore and former Navy Secretary John Dalton, former State Department spokesman James P. Rubin, movie director Barry Levinson and others joined Clark on stage and later spread out across the state to campaign.

Among others stumping for Clark were Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), a senior Clinton administration advisor; former Arkansas Sens. Dale Bumpers and David Pryor; and Mary Frances Berry, who served as chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights under Clinton.

According to a Clark campaign aide, the endorsement from McGovern -- a long-time senator from South Dakota and the unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidate in 1972 -- is expected to be announced at a pancake breakfast in Keene, N.H.

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Following Monday’s Iowa caucuses -- in which four candidates now appear to be vying for first place -- the Democratic hopefuls will come to New Hampshire for the state’s Jan. 27 primary.

With polls showing Clark eight points behind Dean, of neighboring Vermont, the Clark campaign is girding for a week of intense give-and-take with rival candidates.


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