A New Hampshire voter e-mails us to ask: “I’m considering voting for Clark and am still researching him and his background . . . I’m concerned about different snippets that I hear about his Republican background. Have you done any articles on this – or plan to?”
Now we have. And here it is.
Clark has never been registered as a Republican. During his Army service he registered to vote as an independent (as do many career military officers) in his home state of Arkansas . Clark says he voted for Republican Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan out of concern for national security during the Vietnam and Cold War years. But he says later he found Republicans to be “shrill” and “isolationist.” And so he says he voted for fellow Arkansas resident Bill Clinton and most recently for Al Gore, both Democrats. Clark changed his voter registration to Democrat only after retiring from the Army in 2000 and declaring himself a candidate for the party’s nomination late in September, 2003. Clark also spoke approvingly of President Bush on two occasions in 2001 and 2002 that were captured on videotape. You can see these for your self by clicking on the video below.
Clark ’s opponents keep attacking him for his late conversion to the Democratic party. Kerry’s New Hampshire chair Jeanne Shaheen, a former governor of the state, is quoted this week as saying “this candidate is not a Democrat.” And Lieberman said Jan. 4 on ABC’s This Week, “I mean, this is a man who wasn’t a Democrat four months ago and who voted for Nixon, Reagan and Bush.”
Here are the facts:
Registered as an Independent
There’s no dispute about Clark ’s voter registration: he was an independent. This by itself means little, however, as nearly 96% of all Arkansas voters express no party preference when registering. Party preference is “optional” on Arkansas ’ voter registration form, and only 2.6% of the state’s residents were registered as Democrats at the end of 2001, according to the most recent statistics published by the Arkansas Secretary of State. Only 1.4% registered as Republicans.
Voted for Nixon and Reagan
Clark says he voted for Richard Nixon during the Vietnam era, and later for Ronald Reagan as the Cold War was coming to an end. “I voted for Reagan and I voted for Nixon because they were for national security,” Clark said at a campaign appearance in Derry, NH on Dec. 20.
According to a transcript of that appearance, Clark said that when he came back from military service in Vietnam he was unhappy to find soldiers being scorned:
Clark: I fought so that people could demonstrate in the streets and have the freedom to voice their disagreement with the government. But unfortunately, those disagreements often focused on not the government (policies) . . . but on the people that were carrying them out. I was just doing my duty as a soldier. I didn’t make the policy in Vietnam, but I did raise my right hand and take an oath to obey the orders of the commander-in-chief.
He spoke of his support for Reagan in an earlier appearance:
Clark: I remember non-commissioned officers who were going to retire and they re-enlisted because they believed in President Reagan . . . That’s the kind of President Ronald Reagan was. He helped our country win the Cold War . . . And those of us in the armed forces loved him, respected him, and tremendously admired him for his great leadership.
Those remarks were at a Republican dinner in Arkansas May 11, 2001 (about which we will say more later).
Clark also has been quoted as saying he voted for George Bush, the current President’s father, in 1988, and Clark has not denied this.
Then Voted for Clinton and Gore
Clark says he voted for Clinton in 1992 and 1996, and most recently for Gore and against George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election. Explaining why, on Dec. 2 he told National Public Radio interviewer Bob Edwards:
Clark: Well, in the United States Army you never have a party, at least most of us didn’t as far as I know. You just voted for people that were strong for national security. When Bill Clinton ran in ’92 and I listened to him and I had of course known of his record from Arkansas, I found him extraordinarily inspirational and I voted Democratic. I later ended up working around the White House when I was at the Pentagon. I was back and forth across the Potomac for various staff meetings and so forth. And I was impressed with the people in the Clinton administration . . . That’s when I learned that the old myths were wrong. That it wasn’t that the Republicans were tough and strong on defense and the Democrats were soft and blame America. It was really that the Republican Party had become shrill and partisan and isolationist and the Democrats were working mightily to craft a new strategy to take us into a new world. And that’s where I found myself.
Praised George W. Bush
Soon after Clark emerged as a candidate for the Democratic nomination, the Republican National Committee released a videotape and transcript of a speech Clark had given May 11, 2001 for the Pulaski County Republican Party in Arkansas. Most of Clark ’s address was a nonpartisan discussion of foreign policy, but Clark did say this:
Clark: If you look around the world, there’s a lot of work to be done. And I’m very glad we’ve got the great team in office, men like Colin Powell, Don Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Paul O’Neill – people I know very well – our president George W. Bush. We need them there, because we’ve got some tough challenges ahead in Europe.
That was four months before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and long before the invasion of Iraq that Clark now criticizes. A few weeks after speaking at the Republican event, Clark also attended the annual dinner of the Arkansas Democratic party in Little Rock, w here the Arkansas Gazette pictured him with Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln.
After US forces toppled the Taliban government in Afghanistan Clark praised Bush’s military leadership in another speech, also captured on videotape, to a university audience in Searcy, Arkansas in a speech on January 22, 2002:
Clark: I tremendously admire, and I think we all should, the great work done by our commander-in-chief, our president, George Bush, and the men and women of the United States armed forces.
Chose to be a Democrat
And when asked about his praise for Bush and his credentials as a Democrat, Clark said this at his first candidate debate on September 25, 2003:
Clark: We elected a president we thought was a compassionate conservative. Instead we got neither conservatism or compassion. We got a man who recklessly cut taxes. We got a man who recklessly took us into war with Iraq.
I was never partisan in the military. I served under Democratic presidents, I served under Republican presidents. But as I looked at this country and looked which way we were headed, I knew that I needed to speak out. And when I needed to speak out, there was only party to come to.
I am pro-choice, I am pro-affirmative action, I’m pro-environment, pro-health. I believe the United States should engage with allies. We should be a good player in the international community. And we should use force only as a last resort. That’s why I’m proud to be a Democrat.
Watch Clark praise Bush in 2001 and 2002
View Transcript of Wesley Clark Speech at Republican Lincoln Day Dinner, Pulaski County, AR, May 11, 2001
“Lieberman criticizes Clark as Democratic latecomer,” The Associated Press State & Local Wire 5 Jan. 2004
Mike Recht, Associated Press Writer “Shaheen rips Clark on praise for GOP,” Manchester (NH) Union Leader 13 Jan. 2004
Interview with Wesley Clark (extended version) National Public Radio Morning Edition 2 Dec. 2003
Kevin Freking “Kind words for Bush weren’t only from Clark,” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette 2 Nov. 2003: A1.
Transcript of Wesley Clark remarks at “Conversation with Clark” event Derry, NH 20 Dec. 2003 (Note: This transcript was supplied to FactCheck.org by a rival campaign. A Clark campaign spokesman, after reviewing the transcript for accuracy, says it “sounds right”).
Transcript of Wesley Clark speech at Republican Party, Lincoln Day Dinner, Pulaski County 11 May 2001.