Presidential candidate Wesley Clark speaks at Greencastle

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

GREENCASTLE, Ind. -- Wesley Clark's swipes at President Bush over his handling of the war in Iraq can draw cheers from an Indiana audience, just as they have across the country.

The crowd that filled much of DePauw University's gymnasium Tuesday heard the Democratic presidential candidate give few specifics on what he would do as president, but he still was interrupted several times with applause and many people waved "Draft Clark" signs.

The Iraq issue has helped propel Clark, a retired Army general, to the top of national polls just days after he entered the crowded field seeking the Democratic nomination.

Clark said the United States needed a new strategy for handling issues both at home and abroad, starting with rebuilding relationships with its allies and the United Nations.

"How dare someone say you're either with us or against us," Clark said. "We're not going to be safer by building walls around our country. We have to build bridges."

That Clark gave no details about how he would handle matters such as the economy, education and health care was noticed by audience members such as Paul Bowen, minister of the First Baptist Church in Greencastle, about 30 miles west of Indianapolis.

Bowen called Clark brilliant but said he would be watching for more specifics.

"You can stand up here and talk in generalities, but the question is how is that all going to work," Bowen said.

Clark said he would lay out his economic platform during a speech Wednesday in New York. In response to a student's question, he said that beyond the "current crisis" regarding terrorism and the war in Iraq, the country's top problem was unemployment and that job-creation would be his top priority as president.

Clark, who was NATO commander during the 1999 campaign in Kosovo but never has held political office, said he doubted that President Bush's speech Tuesday at the United Nations would help gain much international support in the Iraqi reconstruction effort.

Clark said he did not believe Bush had treated U.S. allies and the U.N. with the proper respect.

"Now he has gone to them and asked them for help, and it's not surprising it's been difficult for him to get the kind of support for our country that we need," Clark said.

Clark, along with Democratic Sens. John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, were in a virtual tie with Bush in head-to-head matchups in a national poll CNN-USA Today-Gallup released Tuesday.

"As I traveled around the country in the days before I announced, I kept feeling this enormous hunger for straight-talking leadership," Clark said. "And I think the American people are beginning to understand that it is not going to come from this administration. They're looking for new leadership. I think the poll numbers reflect that."

The DePauw speech, scheduled weeks ago, is part of the university's Timothy and Sharon Ubben Lecture Series.

Officials at the private school of 2,300 students about 40 miles west of Indianapolis would not reveal how much Clark was paid for his speech, but he has received about $30,000 for other recent speaking engagements.

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