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John Hlinko in his Washington, D.C., office. Hlinko is co-founder of Draft Wesley Clark, a grass-roots organization hoping to get the retired Army general to run for president in 2004.
John Hlinko in his Washington, D.C., office. Hlinko is co-founder of Draft Wesley Clark, a grass-roots organization hoping to get the retired Army general to run for president in 2004. (Patrick J. Dickson / S&S)

WASHINGTON — In a small, nondescript office building a block from the White House, a movement is under way.

Gen. Wesley Clark, if you’re reading this — you are being called for duty.

A grass-roots organization that calls itself “Draft Wesley Clark” hopes to do just that — get the retired Army four-star and former head of NATO to put his hat in the ring for the 2004 election.

Clark could not be reached for comment.

Co-founder John Hlinko has set up shop a block from the White House; his brother-in-law, Josh Margulies, has set up in New York.

That Clark has not committed to run and has had only minimal contact with them doesn’t deter them.

“I’ve had one brief conversation [with Clark]. He had heard a radio ad of ours, and he just shook his head and said ‘It’s amazing.’” But I couldn’t have scripted a better candidate.”

In the last two months, Hlinko said, his organization has gone from one office to 100 across America.

How does a former Republican and now disenchanted Democrat arrive at Clark for President?

“I was a Republican until Jesse Helms and Falwell stole the party away,” he said. Of the Democratic hopefuls, he said, “knee-jerk leftists drive me up the wall. I don’t have a tolerance for candidates who don’t [speak out about] national defense.”

Clark’s military background is a big draw, said Hlinko.

“That experience is a valuable asset,” he said. “You know what it’s like [to be in a war]. He was in Vietnam, and knows that it’s real bullets hitting real people.”

Hlinko said the organization’s Web site has been flooded with well-wishers. Visitors to the site can send a form letter of support or put in a personal message. Hlinko said more than 15,000 have done so thus far.

One supporter writes: “We need a president who can walk the walk and not merely taunt our enemies by chirping ‘Bring ’em on.’ Gen. Clark, you are that man.”

Clark graduated first in his class at West Point, was a Rhodes scholar and spent 34 years in the Army, holding staff and command positions, including supreme allied commander of Europe. He led Operation Allied Force, NATO’s first major combat action, which aimed to save Albanians from ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.

Hlinko has raised $15,000 in donations to run his office, and has received pledges of $150,000 if Clark decides to run.

“It’s an incredibly tough decision,” Hlinko said, “but we want to let him know that if he does run, he has some support from Day 1.”

For more information, go to www.draftwesleyclark.com.

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