By BETH FOUHY
The Associated Press
Sunday, September 16, 2007; 2:27 AM
NEW YORK -- Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton was endorsed Saturday by retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who sought the party's nomination in 2004 and whose sterling military credentials could bolster her bid to be the first female commander in chief.
Clark, the former supreme allied commander of NATO, praised the New York senator as "a remarkable person" with the skills and experience to be president.
"She will be a great leader for the United States of America and a great commander in chief for the men and women in uniform," Clark told reporters in a conference call with the former first lady.
Clinton welcomed Clark's endorsement as a "real sign of confidence" in her ability to lead the military as president. "He and I have been friends for 25 years, and I am deeply admiring of his leadership," she said.
But Clinton also sidestepped questions about a newspaper ad by the liberal group MoveOn.org that criticized the top military commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus. She has refused to condemn the ad, which referred to Petraeus as "General Betray-Us."
"I have repeatedly not only expressed my strong admiration and support for our men and women in uniform but with respect to General Petraeus, I have also made my respect for him abundantly clear and I think that speaks for itself," she said.
Clark, an early critic of the Iraq conflict, was drawn into the 2004 contest through an enthusiastic online draft movement. He dropped out in February of that year after a poor showing in the early primaries, but considered running again this time.
A decorated career Army officer who graduated first in his class at West Point, Clark led the Operation Allied Force in the Kosovo war under President Clinton.
Clark received numerous military commendations throughout his 34-year career and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. But his brief foray into presidential politics wasn't as successful.
His military credentials and forceful criticism of President Bush's handling of the Iraq war propelled him to the top of polls for a time. But he stumbled on his first full day as a candidate, saying he "probably" would have voted for the congressional resolution authorizing the Iraq invasion. Questions about that statement dogged him for the rest of the campaign.
Clark has remained active in politics, running a political action committee, WESpac, and campaigning for Democratic candidates around the country.
Clinton and Clark share strong connections to Arkansas, where he attended high school in Little Rock. She joined the University of Arkansas Law School faculty and a Little Rock law firm before serving as first lady of Arkansas for 12 years while Bill Clinton, who grew up in Hope, Ark., was governor.
Hillary Clinton also gained an endorsement Saturday from Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow. The two women first met in the early 1980s when Stabenow was a state representative and Clinton was a child advocacy attorney.
"I said, this is somebody I want to get to know because it was somebody whose values I share," Stabenow said Saturday after officially endorsing her friend's presidential bid.
Associated Press writer Corey Williams in Detroit contributed to this report.