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OKLAHOMA

For Clark, his chance to win one

Retired Army General Wesley K. Clark was locked in a tight race last night with Senator John Edwards in the Oklahoma primary that Clark desperately needed to keep his campaign afloat with a sign of momentum.

 

Clark, who is from neighboring Arkansas, focused intensely on the rural and conservative voters of Oklahoma. He faced tough challenges from Senator John Edwards, another Southerner, who campaigned in the state more than anyone, and to a lesser degree from Senator John F. Kerry, whose momentum made him a suddenly significant factor there.

Oklahoma provided the closest contest of the day, though it was not the pullaway win that Clark hoped for in directing his resources there in recent days. Clark leaned heavily on his religious faith and his military service in the state, hoping for a win to give his campaign a boost. Jobs and the economy were the key issues.

But on some other issues, Oklahoma Democrats appeared out of step with their counterparts around the nation. Polls show that their opposition to the war was not as strong as in several other states.

Clark needed a victory, and he was alone among the candidates in choosing to stay in the state to watch returns come in last night. His son, Wesley Clark Jr., told reporters earlier in the day that he wanted his father to quit the race if he didn't win Oklahoma.

Four candidates touched down in Oklahoma the day after last week's New Hampshire primary. Edwards coveted the state and performed well there, as he hopes to scoop up Southern support in his bid for the nomination. Senator Joseph I. Lieberman had long eyed Oklahoma as a good fit for his devout religious beliefs and socially moderate stances, but his poor showing yesterday was one more factor in his departure from the race. Kerry had barely set up a campaign in the state until the closing days of the race, but he closed a huge gap recently to finish close to Clark and Edwards in the voting.

RICK KLEIN

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