NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Democratic presidential contender Wesley Clark (search) played up his Southern roots and the values he says he learned there as he closed a two-day campaign swing through parts of the region.
"The values I learned, I learned in the South," Clark said in Nashville, where he was enthusiastically received by about 400 people at Democratic Party headquarters.
The retired Army general has two attributes that should play well in the South: He grew up in Arkansas and is a career Army veteran with a stellar military resume.
But as a Democrat, he faces the region's growing tilt toward the Republican Party in national elections.
Campaign advisers say the tour was designed to send a message about his appeal in a region that will be crucial in next year's general election. They also note that Democratic Senate candidates in several Southern states might have a stronger chance of winning if they're on the ticket with a presidential candidate who appeals to Southern voters (search).
In Nashville, Clark stressed his roots, including a year spent at a military academy 30 miles to the east, and the values he learned at home, and in school and church. He identified those values as patriotism, faith, family and inclusiveness, the last one being a nod to his strategy of stressing support for affirmative action.
About faith, Clark said he learned a long time ago that more people can preach it than can practice it.
"All religions have one thing in common. If you are more fortunate you should reach out to people who are less fortunate," he said. "You should not have a hard heart."
That remark drew perhaps the biggest applause of the day.
Clark said "a lot of people talk about family values" but that increased unemployment and more people without health insurance under President Bush are not reflective of an administration that truly values the family.
"College tuition (search) is up 28 percent the last three years," he said. "The only people I know whose income is up that much in three years is Halliburton," the corporation Vice President Dick Cheney headed before taking office, which has several contracts to help rebuild Iraq.
Clark's southern swing began Monday with appearances in Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina.