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Inside Politics

Clark stakes claim as top-tier candidate

Retired general had sought credibility in strong primary finish

Wesley Clark celebrates with supporters after the New Hampshire primary.
Wesley Clark celebrates with supporters after the New Hampshire primary.

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CNN's Dan Lothian reports that Wesley Clark skipped Iowa to concentrate on New Hampshire and eked out a third-place finish there.
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Clark: 'Never underestimate what a determined soldier can do.'
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Clark talks about his tax plan and the viability of his campaign.
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BEDFORD, New Hampshire (CNN) -- Vowing to send President Bush "right back to that ranch in Texas," retired Gen. Wesley Clark told enthusiastic supporters Tuesday that he "ain't slowing down until the final buzzer sounds."

"Never, never underestimate what a determined soldier can accomplish when he's fighting for his country," said Clark, who was supreme commander of NATO forces in 1999 during the Kosovo war.

Clark made his comments as he clung to a projected third-place finish in the New Hampshire primary. Results showed Clark with 12 percent of the vote, just ahead of Sen. John Edwards.

The retired general hailed the results as a victory for his fledgling campaign.

"Four months ago, we weren't even in this race. We had no money. We had no staff. We had no office. All we had was hope and a vision for a better America," he said.

"Four months later, we came into New Hampshire as one of the elite eight. Tonight, we leave New Hampshire as one of the final four."

Clark had hoped to win one of the top spots in an effort to add credibility to his presidential campaign. The New Hampshire presidential primary was Clark's first election of any sort.

He has been criticized for coming to the Democratic Party late in life. He has acknowledged voting for Republicans Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, but said he voted for Democrats Bill Clinton and Al Gore.

Clark: Leadership comes from deciding

Clark, a Rhodes scholar and West Point graduate, works as an investment banker in Little Rock, Arkansas.

His inexperience on the campaign trail has been evident several times, when he has answered questions or made stump speeches that later required retraction or clarification.

He attempted to put those gaffes behind him Tuesday and looked ahead to the seven states that hold primaries or caucuses February 3.

"We must beat George W. Bush," he said. "I can and I will."

He added, "If there's one thing I learned during my 34 years in the United States Army, it's this: That real leadership comes from deciding and doing, not talking and debating."

Clark said he jumped into the race because he "couldn't stand by and watch while this country that I and so many others have fought for unravels.

"I couldn't stand it," he said.

He then criticized the Bush White House for its tax cuts and its dealings with Beltway special interests.

Then, the general said, "I couldn't stand by and watch as, day after day, our servicemen and women lost their lives in an unnecessary war in Iraq."

Clark's supporters gave a resounding cheer when he promised to "march onward, state after state, until we send George W. Bush right back to that ranch in Texas."

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