MARIETTA - Former presidential candidate and retired four-star Gen. Wesley Clark stopped in Marietta Friday to encourage volunteers and make an eleventh-hour pitch for President Barack Obama.
"I'm a foreign policy guy. I spent 38 years in uniform," said Clark, who served as the NATO Supreme Allied commander in Europe. "I know what good leadership is, and we've had it from President Obama."
Clark spoke to more than a dozen local volunteers at the Obama for America headquarters on Putnam Street in Marietta on the eve of a planned canvass around the county, telling them to spread the word to undecided voters about the importance of Tuesday's election.
Photo by Evan Bevins
Retired four-star Gen. Wesley Clark, right, speaks with fellow Vietnam veterans, from left, Marietta residents Ken Bigley and Regis Kern and Belpre resident Larry Block Friday at the Obama for America headquarters on Putnam Street in Marietta.
"It's about a president that took over an economy that was down and out," he said. "We need to give him time to finish the job."
For the most part, Clark focused on foreign policy. He said Republican challenger Mitt Romney, in his eyes, has "failed the commander-in-chief test," changing his positions and failing to distinguish his approach from Obama's. For example, Romney has said war would be a last resort in stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons and proposed sanctions and diplomatic solutions - as Obama has done, Clark said.
"They actually don't have any answers on any single issue that will be better than President Obama's," he said.
Contacted earlier in the day about the visit, Romney's Ohio campaign released a statement that focused on the economy and the auto bailout.
"The facts are clear: despite his false and misleading attacks, President Obama took the auto companies into bankruptcy. His mismanagement of the process has exposed taxpayers to a $25 billion loss. And these companies are expanding production overseas," the statement says.
"Under President Obama, we have lost 586,000 manufacturing jobs and the unemployment rate is higher than when he took office. Mitt Romney has a plan to strengthen American manufacturing, create 12 million new jobs in America, and deliver a real recovery."
The release may have been in response to recent criticism of the former Massachusetts governor over ads suggesting General Motors and Chrysler are adding jobs in China at the expense of workers in Ohio. Both companies have called the claims untrue.
A campaign spokeswoman could not be reached for comment Friday evening.
At the Obama headquarters, Clark dismissed two of the main criticisms of Obama on the foreign policy front - the country's relationship with Israel and questions over the handling and response of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya in which an ambassador and three other Americans were killed- as political attacks.
Romney has criticized Obama's policy on Israel, including not visiting the country on a foreign tour soon after he was elected. Some have claimed the president showed disrespect to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by meeting with other world leaders but not him during a United Nations summit earlier this year.
Every American president since Harry Truman has pledged to support Israel and Obama may be the strongest, Clark said. The two countries work side-by-side constantly on training and strategy, he said.
"It's an unbelievably close relationship, and to politicize that relationship in this election is just wrong," he said.
As for the attack in Benghazi, Clark said it will take a long time to thoroughly investigate that, just as it did with the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1982.
"He's had the Republican Party scavenging about trying to politicize the deaths of our American ambassador and three other Americans," he said. "I think you've got to let the facts come out from the investigation."
Romney and others have criticized the Obama administration for not providing increased security to the consulate and blaming the incident on protests over an American-made anti-Muslim film instead of the coordinated attack it was later revealed to be.
The changing explanations have led to suspicions that the administration didn't want to acknowledge a terror attack on U.S. personnel so close to the Nov. 6 election, a charge Obama has strongly denied.
Belpre resident Larry Block, 62, was among the volunteers who came to the event and said Clark's opinion carries a lot of weight.
"An endorsement from a retired four-star general like Wesley Clark has got to mean something to somebody," he said.
It did to Ken Bigley, 64, of Marietta, who was also in attendance.
"He hit the nail right on the head," Bigley said. "He's looked out for our country for years, and he knows what it takes."
Clark stopped to chat with Bigley, Block and Marietta resident Regis Kern when he entered the room. All three men served in Vietnam in the late '60s and early '70s, in some cases around the same times and places as Clark.
Clark is the latest campaign surrogate to visit the Pioneer City, following Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, son of Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Mitt Romney's eldest son, Tagg. The first visit by a member of either presidential ticket to Washington County this year comes today when Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan speaks at Dyson Baudo Recreation Center on the Marietta College campus.