Clark Leads the Pack but Not in the Right Places

Article excerpt

Byline: Donald Lambro, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Wesley Clark may be leading the Democratic presidential pack in the national polls, but he is far behind the front-runners in the crucial early state races that will heavily influence, if not decide, who will become the party's nominee.

With behind-the-scenes support from former President Clinton, the retired four-star general from Little Rock, Ark., who was supreme commander of NATO forces, catapulted into the lead in the national polls right after he announced his candidacy last month and has held that position ever since. Three weeks after he entered the contest, he is still drawing 22 percent in the national Gallup Poll - outdistancing his four top rivals who have been campaigning for more than a year.

But national polls are largely irrelevant in the state-by-state delegate-selection contests that usually turn on county-by-county, street-level politics that narrowly appeal to each state's local, cultural and political interests.

Throughout most of this year's Democratic presidential campaign, until Mr. Clark's sudden appearance, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut had been the front-runner in the national voter polls, even though he trailed well behind his chief rivals in the key early caucus and primary states. On the other hand, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean has not held the No. 1 ranking in the national polls, but for months he has led and continues to lead all of his rivals in the Jan. 19 Iowa caucuses and the Jan. 27 New Hampshire primary.

Despite his national front-runner ranking, Mr. Clark was running in fifth place in Iowa, according to internal Democratic campaign polls, and in fifth place in New Hampshire, according to the latest American Research Group poll.

Mr. Dean leads the Democratic nine-member field in New Hampshire with 29 percent, followed by Mr. Kerry with 19 percent and Mr. Lieberman and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri with 6 percent each. …