KEENE, N.H. – Democratic presidential hopeful Wesley Clark on Monday drew an economic line between himself and his Ivy League rivals, telling voters "I didn't go to Yale" or enjoy a privileged upbringing.
Three of his opponents in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary — John Kerry, Howard Dean and Joe Lieberman — graduated from Yale (search), as did President Bush.
"Unlike all the rest of the people in this race, I did grow up poor. I didn't go to Yale. My parents couldn't have afforded to send me there," Clark said during a campaign stop in Keene.
Clark was born in Chicago and grew up in Little Rock, Ark. His mother moved in with her parents after his father died. He attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (search), where tuition is free in return for five years of military service.
Clark spent more than 30 years in the Army, retiring in 2000 as a four-star general. His financial records show he earned $1.6 million in 2002, mostly as a consultant and military analyst.
Two other candidates, John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich, also talk about their humble roots on the campaign trail.
Edwards, a graduate of North Carolina State University, tells voters his father was a mill worker. Kucinich, who earned degrees at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, says his family struggled financially as they moved from home to home nearly two dozen times.
"The fact is, Joe Lieberman's family worked their way up to the middle class, and he was the first person in his family to go to college," said Kristin Carvell, Lieberman's New Hampshire spokeswoman.
Clark struck another familiar theme — his independence from Washington politics — as he undertook a bus tour of all 10 New Hampshire counties. It, too, aimed to separate him from Kerry, Edwards and Lieberman, all U.S. senators.
"I'm an outsider. I'm not part of the problem in Washington. I've never taken money from a lobbyist. I've never cut a deal for votes," he said.
Lobbyists, however, have contributed roughly $20,000 to Clark's presidential bid, the campaign said Monday. And Clark has never been an elected public official, so he has had no occasion to be the focus of lobbying efforts.
What Clark was intending to convey with his remarks was that he never raised money from lobbyists while holding public office and he never took money from lobbyists who have lobbied him on an issue, said Clark's press secretary, Bill Buck. The Clark campaign has raised about $20 million.
After his retirement from the Army, Clark worked for nearly two years as a lobbyist for an Arkansas database firm, Acxiom Corp.
Clark began Monday with a pre-dawn visit to a truck stop in Lebanon and was ending after midnight in Dixville Notch, where citizens traditionally cast the first votes of the New Hampshire primary at midnight.
Early in the day, he made an unscheduled stop at a McDonald's in Claremont, where he spoke at length to a group of World War II veterans who meet there daily for breakfast.
Reggie Larouche, 63, of Claremont, said he was so impressed that Clark took the time to visit that he was thinking about switching his support from Dean.
"I liked the way he did that, coming in here and shaking our hands," he said.
But struggling to stay on time later, Clark spoke for less than two minutes at rallies in Nashua, Manchester and Concord then tried to visit a few downtown shops while surrounded by media.