In the dark back room of Naples Pizza and Restaurant, home of football parties and greasy delights, about 60 Yale students and Connecticut residents gathered Wednesday to celebrate the entrance of Gen. Wesley Clark into the presidential race.
The pizza lunch, organized by Connecticut for Clark in conjunction with Yale Students for Clark, offered Clark’s Connecticut supporters the chance to team up and spread the word about the newest presidential hopeful.
Clark, a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, is the 10th Democrat to enter the bid for president.
“We wanted to get people excited about him,” said Jeremy Ershow ’06, leader of Yale Students for Clark, who organized the event.
With free pizza in hand and occasional whoops of enthusiasm, supporters and curious patrons suspended their political conversations and turned their eyes to FOX — and later CNN — as Clark delivered his candidacy speech from Little Rock, Ark.
“We are going to run a campaign that will move this country forward and not back,” Clark promised the Little Rock crowd.
Many of those present at Naples said they felt Clark stands out among the large pool of Democratic candidates which includes Howard Dean ’71, Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 and Richard Gephardt.
Judy Gordon, a New Britain resident, said she began supporting Clark in January after her job became one of the casualties of the struggling economy. Gordon joined an online e-mail group of about 40 people, which she said grew into the Draft Clark grass-roots organization with 40,000 members across the country.
When Clark is on TV, Gordon brooks no interruptions.
“When my son calls, I say to him — I can’t talk right now, my general’s on,” she said. “He thinks, he is brilliant, he has integrity.”
At the Naples gathering, Gordon and her fellow Connecticut for Clark members passed out bumper stickers and “Clark” candy bars. Gordon said she thought Naples was a good central location for Clark supporters along Highway 91 to convene.
Reaction to Clark’s speech was mixed.
“I thought it introduced some themes the campaign will follow through on, perhaps in more eloquent ways in the future,” Justin Florence LAW ’06 said.
Clark promised to more clearly outline his standing on various policy issues in later speeches. But issues aside, finding a candidate capable of beating the current president was the bottom line for many Democrats at the Naples gathering.
“For me, it’s about beating Bush,” Ershow said. “I believe Clark has the experience and has certain inspirational leadership qualities.”
Ershow said the turnout at the Naples event was better than expected. Some Connecticut residents drove from as far as Redding, and many students came to enjoy a free lunch. Although Ershow said the Yale Students for Clark already had a “decent following,” they distributed posters around campus and solicited members of the Yale College Democrats.
Though Clark has yet to gain the name recognition of his competitors, his reputation is already spreading around campus.
Emma Vangenderen ’06 came with her friends who saw one of the fliers and said she was pleasantly surprised by his speech.
“I think he is more attractive than Howard Dean,” she said.