He has had barely a month on the campaign stump, but Wesley K. Clark is giving his fellow Presidential contenders a run for their money. Already, he has enlisted some of the most prolific fund-raisers in the Democratic Party, including venture capitalist Alan J. Patricof, Wall Street financier Steve Rattner, and Hollywood producer Norman Lear. The latest evidence that the retired four-star general is more than a flash in the political pan: In two weeks as a candidate, Clark hauled in more than $3.5 million. That's almost as much as Missouri Representative Dick Gephardt and Connecticut Senator Joseph I. Lieberman tallied in the past three months.
The scramble for cash is critical. With just 13 weeks before the first votes, the nine survivors of Primary '04 (Florida Senator Bob Graham was voted off the island on Oct. 6) must show that they have the financial heft to take on President Bush. Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean led the pack with a whopping $15 million take in the third quarter. But Clark is surging with the help of pragmatic Dems who think his chestful of medals, liberal social views, and centrist economics make him the party's best hope to topple Bush. A hastily organized fund-raiser at Lear's Los Angeles home drew $300,000, including a check from California real estate billionaire Eli Broad. "People are thirsty to have a winner," Broad says. "None of the other candidates, capable as they are, have gotten people excited."
That excitement helped Clark raise about two-thirds of his $3.5 million on the Internet -- respectable, but not in the same league as Dean, who has an online base of about 600,000 donors. Clark's haul is all the more impressive when you consider that his rivals tapped the easy-to-find contributors while the general was doing his Hamlet act. "Most people who donate have already made up their minds," says Silicon Valley tech exec Steve Kirsch, a Dean backer and major giver.
To compensate, Clark has assembled a squad of rainmakers that includes New Yorkers Sarah and Victor Kovner, Eli Pariser of MoveOn.org, Hyatt hotel scions J.B. and John Pritzker, Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, and Bob Burkett, who in past elections helped raise money for Massachusetts Senator John F. Kerry. Friends of Bill are rallying, too. They include Clinton Library head Skip Rutherford, Clark Campaign Chairman Eli Segal, and Patricof, who plans a $1 million November gala in New York. "Clark will not fail because of an absence of resources," Segal vows.
The Clark Brigade will trumpet his military credentials and past support for Republicans to woo independents and GOPers. "Clark has the capacity to reach beyond Democrats," says Simon Rosenberg, president of the centrist New Democratic Network. And Graham's exit could open spigots in moderate, pro-military Sunshine State. "Florida is extremely ripe for us," Burkett says.
Of course, cash gets you only so far. Clark's operation is still beset by turmoil: Campaign manager and former TechNet exec Donnie Fowler left abruptly on Oct. 7 after a dust-up with Segal. But if Clark can avoid any more major gaffes -- and if the money keeps flowing -- he could well emerge as the Stop-Dean candidate.
Corrections and Clarifications
In "Turning on the tap for Wes Clark" (Washington Outlook, Oct. 20), Eli Pariser of MoveOn.org was identified as a supporter of Clark based on information obtained from the Wesley Clark for President Campaign. Pariser has not written a check to the Clark campaign.
Democratic Presidential candidate Wes Clark has launched a fund-raising blitz with the help of key party moneymen. Among them are:
-- Eli Broad, who met the general through Clinton White House counselor Bruce Lindsey, now a Clark adviser. The philanthropist was scouting for someone to run the Los Angeles Unified School District, and Clark was a finalist. "He was very impressive," says Broad. "He's a centrist. He'll have big backing from Democrats who are in business."
-- Norman Lear, who is defending Clark's beachhead in Hollywood. Days after Clark's entry, the longtime liberal activist wrote to 150 friends asking for donations. The result was a celebrity-studded Oct. 1 event at the producer's home, co-hosted by TV comic Larry David. Lara Bergthold, a Lear aide and a top Hollywood fund-raiser, will be thumbing through her Rolodex for the general. Other Celebs for Clark include Bette Midler, Jerry Seinfeld, and Michael J. Fox.
-- Stanley S. Shuman, executive vice-president of New York investment firm Allen & Co., who has crucial ties to Wall Street money. He and venture capitalist Alan J. Patricof, who was finance chairman of Hillary Rodham Clinton's 2000 Senate campaign, plan to tap New York's deep-pocketed business community. "The money is coming on a very broad-based basis, quite spontaneously," Shuman says.