ROCHESTER, N.H. – After Wesley Clark (search) and his staff spent Wednesday tempering comments Clark made about John Kerry (search), a nighttime campaign stop at a VFW hall turned into a potential embarrassment for the Clark campaign.
An introduction by a Vietnam veteran ripped Kerry, a fellow Vietnam (search) veteran, for his war record and perceived lack of political experience. It was broadcast live on C-SPAN.
"John Kerry has had an extreme makeover in Iowa, he's gone from being a Boston-born man of privilege, a man of wealth -- to a man of the people," said Brian Hardy, a commander of a VFW post in Littleton.
After Kerry won a surprise victory in the Iowa caucuses, which Clark bypassed to focus on New Hampshire, Clark suggested that Kerry's experience as a Navy lieutenant could not match his own as a four-star general. He toned down his remarks Wednesday, saying he wasn't trying to distinguish between his rank and Kerry's.
Clark advisers privately acknowledged the retired general's earlier comments about Kerry's military service may have gone too far and could end up being a costly blunder.
Hardy said Kerry "does not have the executive experience" to run the White House, and praised Clark for his long career of providing members of the military and their families with housing, health care and education.
After Clark delivered a well-received stump speech to more than 100 veterans and voters, he thanked Hardy for the introduction and quickly clarified his feelings on his rival.
"I consider [Kerry] a patriot, I consider him a distinguished senator, and I consider him a fine presidential candidate," Clark said. "It's up to the people of New Hampshire to draw a distinction between us."
Campaign spokesman Matt Bennett said that the campaign did not tell Hardy what to say and that Hardy had introducted Clark earlier Wednesday without mentioning Kerry.
"This doesn't help," Bennett said.