Clark is not expected to overcome Dean in the first two key nominating contests — Clark is not competing in Iowa and is trailing Dean by double-digits in New Hampshire polls. But Clark could be a strong contender when the race moves to other parts of the country.
Clark is the only Democratic candidate to come close to Dean's fund-raising in the last quarter — more than $14 million for Dean and more than $10 million for Clark, according to their campaigns.
"We think General Clark does have a little momentum here and I think that's understandable," Dean told reporters Friday while campaigning in New Hampshire. "He has not been for the most part in the fray of all the attacks that have gone on. But we don't find that our support, our core support, is eroding."
Dean has mentioned Clark in his pitch encouraging potential endorsers to sign on before the Iowa caucuses, according to sources who spoke to The Associated Press on a condition of anonymity. Two people who have heard Dean make his case said he expresses concern that if he loses Iowa and Clark gets second in New Hampshire, Clark could win the nomination.
Dean has received some key endorsements recently that put him in a stronger position leading into Iowa's Jan. 19 caucuses. Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin (search) signed on Friday, three days after former presidential candidate Bill Bradley. Vice President Al Gore (search) endorsed Dean last month.
Dean is in an even stronger position to win New Hampshire's Jan. 27 primary, according to the polls. But with Clark moving into second place in recent surveys, Dean singled him out Friday for criticism at town hall meetings in Rochester and Concord.
Representatives of the Dean campaign also have been attending Clark events in the state, distributing fliers that question Clark's commitment to the Democratic Party and his changing statements on the Iraq war.
Claiming momentum in New Hampshire, Clark canceled plans to visit New Mexico on Sunday so he could campaign in New Hampshire instead. He was sending his wife to the events scheduled in New Hampshire.
Some of the other candidates in the nine-way Democratic primary have also stepped up their criticism of Clark recently, but Dean still is the undisputed front-runner and the target of most of their fire. Dean admits his longtime habit of making controversial statements sometimes helps their cause, but he said his rivals only hurt themselves with what he describes as "gotcha politics."
"They never get to get their positive message out," Dean said. "We do attack back, we do fight back, but most of the time we try to get a positive message out about what we're doing."
At the town hall meeting in Rochester, a woman asked Dean why he was complaining about his rivals' attacks, but distributing fliers against Clark. Dean said he wasn't aware of the fliers and the decision was made by local staff. But he said he would be happy to defend them.
"If the fliers said that General Clark was originally for the war and now is against it, that's accurate," Dean said. "If the fliers said that General Clark said it was perfectly fine to let our software jobs to got to India and replace them with other jobs, he did say that. There is a difference in attack ads and just pointing out the facts."
Dean was referring to comments that Clark made two years ago in support of the resolution authorizing war with Iraq, although he's now campaigning as an opponent of the war. Dean's other criticism from was a comment that Clark made during a debate in November when he said that while software jobs are moving to India, Americans can do other jobs.
On Saturday, Clark sought to clarify his statement by saying he didn't approve of sending the jobs to India and promising to help the software industry.
"I didn't say it's OK," Clark said in Milford, N.H. "I said that software jobs are moving overseas, but we're going to create more jobs in America."
"We will always retain our software industry here, we have to," Clark said. "As long as I'm president, we'll protect, promote and develop our software industry in our country."