MUSING ABOUT CLARK….Josh Marshall examines the possibility of a Wesley Clark candidacy and tries to answer the question, “Why?” I think he gets it about right:

By the normal laws of political gravitation, [Howard] Dean’s sustained surge should have forced a coalescence around one of the several more-centrist-minded establishment candidates….But that clearly has not happened.

….Now, why hasn’t that coalescence taken place? I think the answer is elementary. None of the current candidates has passed the audition for the job. Lieberman’s campaign is generally believed to be moribund (and I like the guy). Edwards has gone absolutely nowhere. Gephardt has bet everything on getting the support of organized labor. But if he gets it, it’ll basically be a mercy … well, I don’t want to be off-color. But, you know what I mean. Kerry is basically the establishment front-runner at the moment. But it’s an extremely anemic frontrunnerdom. He’s basically the front-runner by default because all the other potential frontrunners who haven’t caught fire are doing even worse than he is.

Compare this to Eric Alterman’s impression of John Kerry from a recent fund-raising breakfast:

I came away with the strong impression that he?d make a first-rate president in every way but I have trouble imagining how he?s going to get there. He is articulate, intelligent, well-prepared, thoughtful and has some really good ideas, particularly on health care. But he has zero personal charisma and jes? folks communication skills, which Bush has in abundance.

Now, I think you can make a pretty good case that it’s way too early for an “Anybody But Dean” campaign to start up. That kind of thing doesn’t usually get rolling until someone’s won at least a primary or two.

But the rest of it rings true. The hard truth, I think, is that Lieberman and Gephardt are known quantities who have lost before and don’t inspire confidence that they won’t lose again if they go up against Bush. Kerry probably deserves better, but fairly or not he comes across as wobbly and a bit too self-conscious about fine-tuning his positions. Edwards has charisma, but just hasn’t caught on ? I’m not entirely sure why.

So if you’re a pro, what choice do you have? Either Dean ? whose national security weakness scares a lot of people ? or a candidate who seems unlikely to catch on with the electorate. It’s Hobson’s choice.

Enter Clark, the Arnold Schwarzenegger of the national scene. He’s a bit of a cipher, which means he doesn’t have any serious political baggage. He’s got charisma and can compete well with Bush in reaching out to Middle America. He’s apparently got good liberal cred. And he’s got the contacts to put together a pretty good national security team.

Is it too late? I don’t think so. Sure, the other candidates have been raising money for a while, but if Clark entered the race he’d get a lot of good press for free, especially since the Dean story has now been done and the press corps is looking for something new to write about. If he could convert that into some decent poll numbers he’d start to attract both money and endorsements. It’s doable.

And there’s one more thing. As we all know, Clark is only the second most famous Arkansas native on the national scene, and the real wildcard is whether he could wangle the endorsement of the #1 Arkansan. If he could manage that, I’ll bet the nomination would be his in a walk.

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