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Obsessing about Wesley Clark

The political meet-up mojo seems to belong to presidential candidate Howard Dean. According to the Web site, which helps people with similar interests, um, meet up, 109,300 people have signed up to hear about local meetings of people interested in schmoozing about the former Vermont governor. Second among the presidential candidates, though, is someone who hasn’t yet said whether he’ll even run: Retired General Wesley Clark. As of early this week, 12,800 people had signed up for "Clark in 2004" events. About 75 of them showed up at Tealuxe on Newbury Street Monday night to talk about the guy they really, really want to run for president. As an added bonus, Clark had announced he’d commune with them through a Web announcement at precisely 8:04 p.m.

Clark’s supporters are caught up in an almost religious fervor. Maybe it’s the Arkansas native’s impressive résumé (first in his class at West Point, Rhodes scholar, NATO supreme allied commander); maybe it’s the belief that he and he alone can defeat George W. Bush in 2004. Either way, Monday’s meeting felt a bit like an old-time revival with Clark cast as a Democratic savior.

But there’s a downside to the Church of Clark: as believers know, the man they’re sure can rescue America might choose not to do so. Some cope by feigning certainty and insisting that Clark will absolutely, positively decide to run. Others admit their doubt and fight it with Kierkegaardian intensity.

Owen Murphy — a 29-year-old who’s working for Draft Clark 2004 in Massachusetts and New Hampshire — is a one-man study in Clark-induced elation and anxiety. "I would guess it’s going to be a thank-you or something like that," Murphy predicted of Clark’s much-anticipated announcement. "Maybe — possibly — he’ll tell us when he’s going to make an announcement.

"I’m 92 percent sure he’s going to run," Murphy added. "Maybe I’m overly optimistic because I want him to run so badly. All the stars are lined up for him."

When the only available laptop failed to download Clark’s communiqué, Dave Rubin, Massachusetts media coordinator for Draft Clark 2004, broke the bad news. Then he related his own conversion experience, which came after a friend caught the general on C-SPAN and told him what he’d seen. "I’ve known about General Clark for a while, but I thought he wasn’t going to run," Rubin recalled. "I thought he’d given up. But he hasn’t. And he will run."

A few feet away, Matt Stoller — a 2000 Harvard grad who publishes the daily online newsletter the Clark Tribune — kept working to download Clark’s announcement. "He’s really a profound thinker," said Stoller, who seemed slightly out of breath. "His vision and ideas really do motivate the spirit of what works in this country."

When Megan Chapman of Newton, Jack Daniel of Boston, and Melissa Koenig of Cambridge were asked how they’ll feel if Clark doesn’t declare, Koenig moaned and hung her head. "I would be very disappointed," said Daniel. "Disappointed is the right word," Chapman agreed.

A bit later, Stoller managed to open Clark’s Web announcement. In it, Clark said he’d make his decision by the end of next week. For sure.

Issue Date: September 12 - 18, 2003
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