NASHUA, N.H. – Days after abandoning Iowa, Democrat Wesley Clark (search) quickly shifted to a multistate strategy that combines the traditional door-to-door presidential campaigning with satellite feeds and Internet fund raising.
Clark began a five-day swing through New Hampshire Tuesday, which his advisers hope will give his month-old campaign a fresh start after some rookie stumbles. The Clark team sees New Hampshire as part of a broader strategy to raise more than $10 million by the end of the year, air ads next month, finish third in the Granite State in January, then tick off a series of wins in states with later nominating contests.
"I think you have to be realistic about what expectations are," Clark said after greeting voters along Main Street businesses in Nashua, N.H. "But, hey, look, I spent my life working to win, OK? I'm not conceding anything."
Many of the voters Clark approached were uncommitted and open to supporting the retired four-star general in his first run for political office. Clark is leading in national polls and raised an impressive amount of money in the short term, but his rivals have focused on his flip-flops on Iraq and his ties to the Republicans.
Campaigning Tuesday, Clark compensated for his laryngitis by leaning in close to voters and speaking in a voice not much louder than a whisper.
He browsed for both Allen Edmonds dress shoes and votes at Alec's Shoes, where he impressed owner John Koutsos. A self-described Republican, Koutsos said he has been disappointed in Bush's "heavy-handed" approach to war with Iraq and would consider voting in the Democratic primary for someone like Clark.
"I think the experience of being in the military is very important," Koutsos said.
For Paul Breaut, who met Clark while sitting at Martha's Exchange microbrewery, the former general's appeal is his electability. Breaut said Dean probably will win New Hampshire, but he doesn't think the former Vermont governor can beat Bush after signing a civil-unions bill granting legal rights to gay couples.
"Dean is a good boy, but he's much too far left," said Breaut, an independent who also likes Joe Lieberman. "I mean, gay marriage in Vermont? Gees, middle America will reject that."
Clark's team hopes to position him as the alternative to Dean, with enough money and momentum to compete — even if Dean wins Iowa and New Hampshire.
Clark hopes to pick up his first victory Feb. 3, mostly likely in South Carolina, where veterans make up a sizable portion of the electorate. He's also building teams to campaign in New Mexico, Oklahoma and Arizona.
It's a risky plan with competition from rivals who have been working for a win much longer. With Dean, Kerry and Dick Gephardt fighting for victory in the first two states, John Edwards, Lieberman and Clark are staking their campaigns on the Feb. 3 states.
"I think his biggest challenge is transforming his national popularity and case for being the best candidate to beat President Bush into Democratic delegates," said Clark supporter Skip Rutherford, head of Bill Clinton's presidential library.
Senior Clark advisers, speaking on a condition of anonymity, said their greatest concern is the candidate, who has shown great potential but has had little time to learn the craft of campaigning. They say he needs to learn to connect better with voters, and it's unclear how open he will be to advice from political professionals.
In his first two debates, Clark too often came across as an Army general giving a dispassionate news briefing, according to his own backers.
They said they will compensate by setting Clark up with town-hall style meetings and one-on-one sessions like the Nashua visits. Clark told reporters he will spend about half his time in New Hampshire, but senior aides said he will reach out to other states with satellite-fed interviews to local media.
Satellite time is expensive, but Clark raised an impressive $1 million a week his first three weeks in the race. Aides said he doesn't expect to maintain that pace, but they're shooting for a lofty goal — more than $10 million in the last quarter.
Clark's first ads will highlight his biography and are scheduled to air in New Hampshire, South Carolina and perhaps other Feb. 3 states the first week of November, an adviser said.
Clark's team recently added Geoff Garin as pollster and Joe Slade White of New York to make his first ad, but they're still lacking a political director and field director.
George Bruno, a New Hampshire activist, said Clark certainly won't win the state, but he hopes he can come out in the top four. Bruno repeated the Clark team's big mantra — He's only been in the race a few weeks; give us time.
"We don't even have bumper stickers yet!" he said with a laugh.