Fowler Warns Clark About Ties to D.C.
In a letter sent to retired Gen. Wesley Clark late last week, former campaign manager Donnie Fowler warned that the presidential candidate ran the risk of losing his momentum and appeal as an outsider by paying too much heed to his Washington-based advisers.
Fowler, who left the campaign after just two weeks on the job, wrote that Clark has begun to “adopt some bad habits of past presidential efforts.”
“While all campaigns are rough-and-tumble, your advisors have begun to exceed the usual efforts to exercise influence without accepting responsibility,” Fowler continued. “Many have taken that a step further by refusing to give up their clients or move to Little Rock.”
The last sentence appears to be a direct shot at several former Clinton administration officials who are serving as informal advisers to the Clark effort, including Mark Fabiani and Ron Klain, both of whom are strategists in the campaign but not employed in an official capacity.
Neither Klain nor Fabiani has shown any sign that he plans to move to the campaign headquarters nor give up his outside consulting practice.
“You should demand a commitment from those who wish to direct your campaign but who hedge their bets against the possibility you will fail,” Fowler wrote.
Then-Vice President Al Gore was roundly criticized during the 2000 presidential campaign for enlisting too many consultants to advise him.
Many longtime observers of the former Tennessee Senator’s operation believe that the presence of strategists who had little past history with Gore was one of the primary reasons that he appeared uncomfortable during much of the campaign and ultimately lost the race to then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
Drawing another comparison to the failed Gore effort of 2000, Fowler went on to question Clark’s plan to split his campaign between Little Rock and Washington. Gore drew heavy criticism for originally basing his campaign in Washington before eventually moving the headquarters to Nashville.
“The push to split the campaign operation up by leasing a 5,000 square foot office to oversee all policy, research and speechwriting is a risky mistake,” according to Fowler.
Fowler notes that much as the military “avoids dividing its intelligence functions from its operational efforts,” Clark should strive to keep his campaign unified in Little Rock.
“A Washington approach to policy and politics severely handicaps your ability to run a campaign that connects to voters in the states,” said Fowler. “What people in DC find important and salient rarely matters to those citizens who actually decide elections.”
Since his entrance into the race in mid-September, Clark has risen to the top of national polls largely due to the combination of his military background and voters’ sense that he is not a typical politician.
His status as an outsider in a race that boasts five federally elected officials puts him in direct competition with former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who has risen from obscurity earlier in the year to be the campaign’s frontrunner based on his strong and persistent criticism of Washington politics.
Unlike Dean, however, Clark has shown little willingness to directly criticize the lawmakers on Capitol Hill and has already spent time cultivating relationships in hopes of making a smooth transition to governing if and when he is elected.
In his letter, Fowler urged Clark to remember that much of the groundwork for his nascent campaign was laid by a volunteer draft organization that is now being largely pushed to the side by political professionals.
“Just as a war cannot be fought with officers and no troops, a campaign cannot succeed with political consultants and no activists,” said Fowler. “You are unique among all the candidates because you started with a movement, not a campaign, and because you are not a creature of Washington, DC.”