September 16, 2003 | Broadcast

CNN America Morning



SOLEDAD O’BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Look before you leap the saying goes. Well, retired Army General Wesley Clark has clearly take that to heart as he considers a run for the White House. Now it appears that Clark is poised to jump into the presidential fray. So how will his candidacy impact the crowded Democratic field?

Joining us this morning from Washington D.C. to talk about it is Democratic consultant Victor Kamber and also Cliff May. He’s a former RNC communications director, and he is now with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Good morning, gentlemen.

Nice to see you both.

VICTOR KAMBER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Good morning.

CLIFF MAY, FMR. RNC. COMM. DIR.: Good morning, Soledad.

O’BRIEN: You Know, For goodness sake, we have heard Wesley Clark’s think about it, think about it, think about it. Where do you guys weigh in on whether or not he will actually jump into the fray and what the impact is?

Victor, why don’t we start with you.

KAMBER: From all I can tell, it looks like he may. I think it’s terrific. To me, it says — it shows the weakness of George Bush, that people are still at this date jumping in the race. There’s nothing unusual about it. He is a leader. He’s a proven leader, although he’s never stood for elective office before. I’m not sure that’ll be a hindrance. You know, as a consultant type, I think he has a tough race ahead, because others have gotten a head start. But he certainly knows how to deal with the press. The press seems fond of him. They’ve given him some great attention. I think he brings a new dimension to the race. And once again, I think it really shows the weakness of George Bush.

MAY: Soledad, let me point out, Victor is so clever at his spin he says it shows the weakness of George Bush as opposed to the analysis that it shows the weakness of the Democratic field, that after all this time, there’s no front-runner, except for Howard Dean, who a lot of Democrats think couldn’t possibly be a candidate who’s going to win a national election.

O’BRIEN: Then tell me how do you think this impacts the Democratic field? Let’s go it the assumption that he’s going to run.

MAY: Let’s go with that.

O’BRIEN: What’s the impact then?

MAY: I think the other candidates who are in the race who haven’t gotten much traction have to be nervous about this. It’s going to take attention off them. And I think Howard Dean has to be nervous about it, because Howard Dean appeals to the very far antiwar left wing of the Democratic Party, and here comes somebody who will say, hey, I was a general, I have taken on America’s enemies, I can do it again, and let me show you a difference from Howard Dean.

Now the difficulty is that – -and it’s a big difficulty — is that Wesley Clark has never before run for anything. If you look at American history, it’s rare that someone who has never run for anything, never won anything, can win.

On the secondhand, let me just say, on the second hand, let me just say, when that’s happened, it’s generally been a general, Eisenhower and Grant.

On the third hand, it’s usually been a general who has won major victories in major wars. That’s not true. Wesley Clark has got a hard road ahead of him as well, being in the major leagues, never having played this game before.

O’BRIEN: There is no third hand.

And, Victor, I want to ask you a question. Who do you think he runs with? Again, let’s go with the assumption that he’s in the race. Who’s his runningmate? And what’s the impact of that choice?

KAMBER: You mean Wesley Clark?

O’BRIEN: Yes.

KAMBER: Who’s his runningmate? I think probably a governor or a senator, somebody with electoral experience who knows Washington. Makes great sense. I think he brings to the table a certain level of foreign policy in defense expertise, that if he is the nominee, he would then select somebody who understands Washington.

Let me comment on one thing Cliff said. The fact is Cliff’s right, no Democratic has yet emerged from the field as a frontrunner. As a matter of fact, the last poll I saw showed that five or six out of 10 Americans couldn’t name one Democratic running for office.

And yet, in a poll or poll after poll, generically, George Bush against an unknown Democrat, he barely wins.

Now you put a Democrat who finally gets the nomination, whoever emerges, George Bush is in trouble this election. And what Cliff also forgets is the last election, we had another general who pondered running and almost ran, and that was Colin Powell. He made a decision at the end. It’s not unusual anymore for people with national stature to look at these races and make decisions.

O’BRIEN: Cliff, before you answer that, I want to get to John Edwards, because we have heard him make his official — you know, he’s going to make his official declaration for president today. Give me a sense of can he possibly get the nomination? And to what degree is his career over if he doesn’t get the nomination, since he’s not going to be a senator anymore?

MAY: Well, I think the thing about John Edwards making his announcement now is it’s a little bit anticlimactic. He’s been running all this time. And guess what, today, he’s going to announce that he’s been running all this time.

John Edwards, if he doesn’t get any traction, if he doesn’t win, I don’t think his career is over. He was a successful trial lawyer. He could always run for governor, he could run for the Senate again, even though he says he won’t this time.

By the way, there’s also — I just want to throw in this possibility so I’ve said it. I think Wesley Clark at the end of the day seeks not the presidential nomination, but the vice presidential nomination. I think if he does at all well, he will end up on somebody else’s ticket. Now the question, what will the Democratic stance on foreign policy, on the war on terrorism. Right now, they’re all over the board. The kind of consensus position of the Democrats is that we need to send a lot more troops to Iraq and then bring them home immediately.

O’BRIEN: Victor, we only have a few seconds left. So what Cliff seems to be saying is that all of the things that we have seen about Wesley Clark churning over the decision to be president, he’s actually positioning himself to be vice president. Do you agree with that?

KAMBER: You don’t run for vice president. You give speeches. You do all sorts of things for visibility. You don’t go in the race and run for vice president, mainly because if you don’t do well, you’re out of contention. And so it makes no sense to put yourself on an electoral ballot — Iowa, New Hampshire, etc. — if your goal is vice president. If your goal is vice president, you stay on television, you right op-eds, you stay visible. He’s not — if he’s running, he’s running for president of the United States.

O’BRIEN: Victor Kamber and Clifford May, as always, guys, nice to see you.

And I got to tell you, I think I heard Victor say the fact is that Cliff is write this morning. I’ve written it down. We’re going to hang on to it for the record book.

But then he gave a list of caveats after that, so I guess it doesn’t really doesn’t count.

Guys, as always, nice to see you. Thanks so much.

MAY: Thank you.

KAMBER: Thank you.