Clark Campaign Suffers From Late Entry Into Race

Some in the Internet grass-roots movement that helped give rise to Wesley Clark's candidacy are frustrated with the direction the 3-week-old campaign is taking under the guidance of former advisers to Democrat Al Gore (search).

On the DraftClark.com (search) Web site Wednesday, an open letter to readers said: "By the time you read these words, the bell will be tolling for Wesley Clark's candidacy. It will be clear across the country that the campaign of Wesley Clark (searchis nothing more than the Gore campaign with a better candidate."

The sudden departure of Clark's campaign manager Donnie Fowler (search) reflects the rift between the more traditional campaign strategists, many of whom worked for Gore's unsuccessful presidential bid in 2000, and the new guard pushing an Internet-driven effort.

The 35-year-old Fowler quit the campaign Tuesday after telling associates that he was having trouble getting top campaign advisers to take supporters of the draft Clark movement seriously. He also was concerned that the campaign would be too focused in Washington.

"There was never a mistrust of intentions, but there still was a short period of time when there was a little skepticism about the effectiveness of a grass-roots campaign," said Josh Margulies, a founder of the DraftWesleyClark.com Web site who now works with the Clark campaign.

The retired Army general's late entry into the crowded Democratic field resulted in a rushed effort to get a full-blown campaign in place, a problem none of Clark's well-established rivals have faced. Divisions have surfaced between the Clinton-Gore veterans, hired within days of Clark's Sept. 17 official announcement, and the draft Clark movement supporters who had been working for months.

The unsigned open letter on the DraftClark.com Web site, one of several devoted to the retired general that predated his candidacy, was similar in content to comments about the campaign's direction on the blog for Clark's official Web site. A weblog, or blog, is an online diary.

"With any large national campaign there are going to be a few bumps in the road, especially when dealing with something as unique as what happened with the draft Clark movement," said Kym Spell, a spokeswoman for the Clark campaign.

Clark supporter Regina Mullen, a lawyer from Ann Arbor, Mich., said Clark's backers around the country should remain patient as the campaign takes shape.

"It's important for the grass-roots people to understand that this is a national campaign now," she said. "By the time we get to the primaries, this will completely blow over."

The campaign was adding staff this week, hiring Jamal Simmons from Bob Graham's defunct campaign for its media operation.