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Wesley Clark targets John McCain, then takes return fire

June 29, 2008 |  2:30 pm

Some Democrats have been known to complain that the party's last two vice presidential nominees -- Joe Lieberman in 2000 and John Edwards in 2004 -- shied away from the "attack dog" role often assumed by the politician holding down the second spot on a party's national ticket.

If Barack Obama is looking for combativeness in his pick, retired Gen. Wesley Clark signaled today that he's up to the task. Then again, Clark may have pursued a critique of John McCain that Obama and his aides would just as soon stay away from.

Appearing on the CBS chat show "Face the Nation," Clark -- who has rated prominent mention as a veep prospect both because he was a strong Hillary Clinton supporter and his credentials on the national security front -- backed off not one bit from his previous characterization of McCain as "untested and untried" as an executive leader.

Pressed on that quote by moderator Bob Schieffer, Clark said that "in the matters of national security policy making, it's a matter of understanding risk, it's a matter of gauging your opponents and it's a matter of being held accountable. John McCain's never done any of that in his official positions. ... He hasn't held executive responsibility. That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded wasn't a wartime squadron. He hasn't been there and ordered the bombs to fall. ..."

Pressed further by Schieffer, Clark then delivered perhaps the day's marquee quote:

"I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president."

The McCain campaign responded quickly, teeing up Clark as a surrogate for the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and blasting away:

"If Barack Obama's campaign wants to question John McCain's military service, that's their right. But let's please drop the pretense that Barack Obama stands for a new type of politics. The reality is he's proving to be a typical politician who is willing to say anything to get elected, including allowing his campaign surrogates to demean and attack John McCain's military service record."

For a wrapup of some of the other back-and-forth on the Sunday shows -- including independent White House contender Ralph Nader pressing the assault he unleashed last week on Obama -- see this posting on the Chicago Tribune's Swamp blog.

And The Times' Evan Halper recounts the needling California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took from NBC's Tom Brokaw during a "Meet the Press'" appearance. As Halper notes in his story, Schwarzenegger generally gets fawned over by the national media, but that wasn't the case in this encounter.

-- Don Frederick

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