Evoking the image of Gen. George Custer's (search) famed last stand, one of Wesley Clark's chief backers in New York said Tuesday it appeared the former general's race for the Democratic presidential nomination might be over.

"I think the general is about to meet Sitting Bull (search)," said state Senate Minority Leader David Paterson (search), a Manhattan Democrat.

Paterson was referring to the 1876 battle in which Custer and more than 200 soldiers of the 7th Cavalry were wiped out by a force of Indians led by Sitting Bull at the Little Bighorn River in Montana.

"No one likes more a colorful battle reference than a senior soldier like Wes Clark, but in this case the storyteller was a little confused," said Clark spokeswoman Kym Spell. "The history of this war is far from written."

Also on Tuesday, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean sought to demonstrate his campaign was alive and well in New York.

The Dean camp issued a lengthy study seeking to show how President Bush's tax cuts and fiscal policy had hurt individual counties across New York, forcing them to raise local taxes and cut services.

"This president continues to shift costs from the federal government to states and communities and through massive borrowing to our children and grandchildren," Dean said. "This really amounts to a `Bush Tax' that all of us are paying in higher local taxes, service cuts and huge future deficits."

The Dean campaign offered a county-by-county breakdown of the claimed effects of the Bush fiscal policies at: http://newyork.deanforamerica.com/bushtax.

Paterson, during an interview with Albany's WROW-AM radio, said that with contests for Democratic delegates in seven states on Tuesday, things did not look good for Clark, the retired Army general and former NATO supreme allied commander.

"John Kerry, as I see it, is the clear candidate," Paterson said.

In a subsequent interview with The Associated Press, Paterson said he would continue to back Clark as long as he remained in the race.

"I was kidding around (during the radio interview) and I'm still supporting him, but there comes a point — some of these (seven) states are in the South ... and this is an area that we were trying to run strong in, so just being a realist, it's going to be kind of difficult" to continue, Paterson said.

Paterson said if Clark managed to win Tuesday in Oklahoma, where pre-vote polls showed him running close with Kerry, the general might continue to fight. Spell said that even if Clark won no contests on Tuesday, his campaign would continue.

While Paterson said he was impressed by Sen. Kerry's early campaign success — "It's not a bad thing for the party that people are uniting around one candidate," the state senator said — the New York Democrat also said he was still hoping for a "big upset" on Tuesday by Clark and noted that a month ago "it was all Dean, all the time."

With Dean focusing his resources on states beyond Tuesday's voting, his New York staff sought to keep his name in the political mix with the release of their attack on the Bush fiscal policies. New York's Democratic primary is March 2.

The Dean camp said Bush's economic policies had left upstate New York school districts shortchanged by more than $133 million in aid, including $23 million for Buffalo-area schools.

Asked about the Dean charges, Republican National Committee spokeswoman Heather Layman said "the president's economic growth plan is working. You can see that from any of a number of different economic indicators."

"The tax relief that went to millions of Americans is what helped start this economic recovery and is going to help start creating jobs as well," Layman added.

Among the Democratic candidates, Dean and Al Sharpton have called for a complete repeal of the Bush tax cuts while the other top contenders have called for repealing only those portions of the Republican president's plan that benefit wealthier Americans.

Dean has proposed a two-year, $100 billion "Fund to Restore America" program that would send special aid to states and localities to help them get out of fiscal difficulties.