It may come as a surprise to some of his supporters, but Democratic Presidential candidate Wesley K. Clark still hasn't joined the Democratic Party. According to the Pulaski County (Ark.) Voter Registrar's office, the former four-star general remains a registered independent. Even though he has been a declared candidate for the Dem nomination for two weeks now, he has yet to officially change his party affiliation.
A Clark campaign spokesman at first told BusinessWeek that the former general had in fact updated his voter registration to reflect his newfound status as a Democrat. But a call to the Pulaski County Voter Registrar indicated otherwise. When asked to explain the discrepancy, campaign consultant Mark Fabiani says Clark hadn't yet had time to register as a Democrat.
He adds that the fledgling White House seeker plans to make his Democratic status official as soon as he gets a breather. "This has been a whirlwind two weeks," says Fabiani. "There are a lot of things we have to do, and that's one of them."
Fabiani notes that Clark's independent record -- coupled with the fact that he voted for Ronald Reagan -- could boost his bipartisan appeal in a general election. And even if Clark doesn't get around to updating his registration, he'll be able to vote for himself in the Democratic primary. Arkansas, like many other states, allows everyone to vote in primaries regardless of party affiliation.
Of course, Clark must first win over Democratic voters in the upcoming primaries if he's to take on Bush in a general election -- still more than a year away. And on top of disclosures that he voted for Reagan and possibly Richard Nixon for President and lavishly praised Team Bush in some post-September 11 public speeches, this latest revelation can only come as cold comfort to party stalwarts.
When the Iowa and New Hampshire primary contests roll around, core Democrats may respond better to Howard Dean's boast that he comes from "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" and not have much use for a candidate for whom that doesn't seem to matter much.
By Lorraine Woellert in Washington, D.C.