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How the Wes Was Lost

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Clark Drops Out: A funny thing happened on Wesley Clark’s way to elective office. Actually it was two funny things. The first was that he lost his voice, some of the strength of his personality and his previously remarkable ability to communicate (OK, and also his strategy once it turned out Kerry, and not Dean, was the man to beat). Clark bungled many of his early press interviews, failing even to have a good answer to the most obvious question about his position on Iraq (and this is a guy who spent a career running wars and operating under extreme pressure). He was flustered in debates. His delivery at speaking engagements was at times monotone. In an effort to stir enthusiasm, he would often raise his invented voice to a near yell. But when you raise your voice in your introductory remarks (“Sorry I’m late, we couldn’t find a parking spot for the bus!!”), there’s nowhere left to go for the really important points. The pre-race Wes Clark, even when within a clear line of command, was his own man. Somewhere along the campaign trail he got handled and managed into irrelevance.

But then there was that second funny thing. Once the writing was on the exit polls, Clark the person was free to emerge from behind Clark the candidate. With the weight of political possibility lifted, he got better. His performances on the campaign trail, on the stump and in television appearances improved. His eloquence returned on issues such as defense, liberalism and the separation of church and state. He essentially began to become the candidate supporters envisioned when the Draft Clark movement erupted. Just wait and see what a benefit he’ll be to Kerry if the two come to terms. It would be easy to say Clark simply needed the time to develop his campaign shtick. But it’s more than that. There is something about being in the race and having a realistic shot at success that brings out, well, the politician in a person (remember how we always heard that Gore was hilarious in person?). That’s probably the way it’s always been. Clark became a great candidate just about the time it was obvious to everyone (most importantly himself) that his run for the White House was over.

Dave Pell writes ELECTABLOG

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  • Eric Olsen

    Excellent analysis Dave, thanks! Interesting how some are at their best campaigning (Clinton) and others at or near worst. I’m not sure what the final meaning of being a great campaigner is, though.