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For Clark, a Meal But No Deal

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), an early supporter of Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (D-Conn.) presidential campaign, is scheduled to host a dinner for retired Gen. Wesley Clark Tuesday night, fueling speculation that the powerful Congresswoman could jump to the Clark campaign.

The event, which will be held at the Capitol Hill home of DeLauro and her husband — prominent Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg — is being downplayed by people familiar with the situation as nothing more than one in a series of policy forums that the pair host on a regular basis.

“As far as tea leaf reading goes, I’m afraid there’s not much to decipher here,” said Lieberman spokesman Jano Cabrera. “DeLauro’s office extended this invitation well over a month ago before Clark was ever a candidate and is simply honoring that invitation.”

DeLauro did not return calls seeking comment.

But, Clark would be the only presidential candidate to attend one of these gatherings, and his expected appearance has already generated talk among the political chattering class about both DeLauro and Greenberg’s intentions regarding the White House campaign.

DeLauro’s support of Lieberman was generally regarded as more the result of their home state connection than any ideological similarities. DeLauro is seen as the most liberal of the Nutmeg State’s Democratic delegation, while Lieberman is the most conservative.

On a key issue of the campaign — the 2002 Congressional resolution allowing the use of force in Iraq — Lieberman was a vocal proponent and supported the legislation in the Senate; DeLauro opposed the resolution when it came to a House vote.

One line of thought is that DeLauro will not step away from Lieberman while he remains in the contest but that if the Connecticut Senator drops out of the race, she would quickly line up behind the retired general.

Her close connections to Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), one of Clark’s most high-profile backers, has done little to quiet such rumors.

Greenberg is also at the center of discussions in the consultant community about who will handle the survey research for Clark. The other polling company mentioned is Bennett, Petts and Blumenthal.

Greenberg will be out of the country on Tuesday but his office said he was not in any way involved in the organization of the dinner at his home.

One source familiar with Greenberg’s polling firm said it is uninterested in getting involved with one presidential candidate, focusing instead on crafting a strategy for Democratic interest groups in the 2004 general election.

If Greenberg does sign on with Clark, however, he would join a panoply of former Clinton administration officials on the team, including Emanuel, a former senior adviser; former White House spokesmen Mark Fabiani and Mike McCurry; Clinton confidante Bruce Lindsey; and former Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor. Greenberg handled the polling for Clinton’s 1992 campaign.

Although Clark has not yet made a decision on media consultants for his campaign, the two most oft-mentioned names are Squier Knapp Dunn and the Glover Park Group.

Sources familiar with both firms said any such discussions were premature.

The DeLauro dinner will come just after Clark makes his first visit to the Hill Tuesday, where he will meet with his Congressional backers as well as undecided House Members interested in his candidacy.

Although Arkansas Sens. Mark Pryor (D) and Blanche Lincoln (D) have already endorsed Clark, they have yet to set up a similar event for him to meet uncommitted Senators.

Clark has picked up 10 House Member endorsements for his fledgling campaign and has aggressively courted their support through Emanuel as well as Reps. Marion Berry (D-Ark.) and Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.).

Berry has predicted that 30 to 50 Members will wind up backing Clark, a number disputed by the campaign of Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.), who currently leads the Democratic Congressional endorsement race with 31. He is expected to add to that total later this week when Rep. Tom Strickland (Ohio) backs the Missouri Congressman.

“There is a lot of hype about [Clark’s] candidacy and his supporters are throwing around big numbers, but there is no evidence to support [those claims],” said Gephardt senior adviser Steve Elmendorf.

He added that Clark’s Hill visit Tuesday and the subsequent dinner is unlikely to convince a group of Members to endorse the general.

“Members want to support someone with whom they have a relationship, and I would be surprised if they want to jump on board after meeting him one time,” Elmendorf said.

There is significant excitement within the Democratic Caucus about Clark’s candidacy, however, and he seemed to do little to quell that energy at last Thursday’s debate, his first as an official candidate.

“His reputation in terms of qualifications make him an exceedingly attractive candidate to a large cross section” of the caucus, said one House Democratic leadership aide. “There is a reason why Members have been holding out” on endorsements.

Roughly two-thirds of Democratic House Members and Senators have yet to endorse one of the 10 candidates for president.

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