BEDFORD, N.H. – Wesley Clark (search) took his campaign for the Democratic nomination west on Wednesday, a little smarter and a little more experienced in the ways of presidential politics.
Clark finished behind John Kerry (search) and Howard Dean (search) in the New Hampshire primary Tuesday night and was several hundred votes ahead of John Edwards (search) as the last precincts reported results Wednesday. Both Clark and Edwards had 12 percent of the vote, compared to Kerry's 39 percent and Dean's 26 percent.
Though Clark dipped in polls the past week, he insisted his showing in New Hampshire set the stage for success. He was traveling Wednesday to Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona, three of the seven states holding contests on Tuesday. A transportation problem led Clark to postpone a visit to a fourth, South Carolina.
"We'll be leaving New Hampshire tonight a smarter, better, stronger and even more determined candidate," the retired general said Tuesday night. "Never underestimate what a determined soldier can accomplish when he's fighting for his country."
The last candidate to enter a crowded race, Clark gained ground quickly by emphasizing his military background and leadership experience. He had climbed as high as second in some New Hampshire polls, but some eyebrow-raising remarks took their toll, and advisers conceded Clark lost much of the momentum he enjoyed while the rest of the field was in Iowa.
Clark said he still has plenty of fight in him.
"We're heading south. We're heading west. And we're not slowing down until the last buzzer sounds," he told a crowd of pompom-waving supporters. "Today was just the first battle in our campaign to take America back."
Casting himself as the true outsider, Clark has been emphasizing his Southern roots and humble background to argue that he is both electable and sympathetic to the struggles of working families. He continues to tout the foreign policy skills he honed as NATO supreme allied commander.
"Four months ago, we weren't even in this race. We had no money. We had no office. All we had was hope and a vision for a better America," he said. "We came into New Hampshire as one of the Elite Eight. We leave tonight as one of the Final Four."
Clark has been running commercials in five of seven states that vote Feb. 3. His advisers say he will continue to purchase significant air time in South Carolina and spend even more than he has already in Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and North Dakota.