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Washington Wrap

Dotty Lynch, Douglas Kiker, and Steve Chaggaris of The CBS News Political Unit have the latest from the nation's capital.

California Dreamin': President Bush's decision to declare victory in Iraq not from the Oval Office but from the USS Abraham Lincoln chugging its way into San Diego Harbor has all the trappings of made-for-TV campaign politics. But California hasn't been friendly terrain for the Bush family in recent years.

CBS News' Mark Knoller reports that when the president goes to California on Thursday it will be only his sixth visit to the state, although it's the biggest campaign prize, with 55 votes in the Electoral College.

Mr. Bush won the presidency without winning California, but it was a far more important base of support for his predecessor, Bill Clinton. By the same time in his presidency, Mr. Clinton had visited California 17 times. And by the end of his eight years in office, he had been there 56 times, more than he visited his home state of Arkansas.

Mr. Bush has visited no state more often than his home state of Texas. This weekend will mark his 24th return to the Lone Star state.

Right At The End, Too?: Former - and possibly future - Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart came to the CBS News Washington bureau on Tuesday for an hour-long discussion. Topics ranged from presidential politics (he'll make a final decision on a third presidential run "sometime soon") to President Bush's foreign policy ("It would be a stretch, even today, to call him an internationalist") to the ongoing power struggle between the state and defense departments (Donald Rumsfeld "seems to be the secretary of state") to the continued threat of terrorist attacks on the United States (President Bush "has not done a damn thing about it").

From beginning to end, Hart, 66, sounded like a man about to throw his hat into the presidential ring. Although he's a little grayer than in the 1984 and 1988 campaigns, Hart has been busy traveling the country for most of 2003 discussing his "big ideas," mainly at colleges and think tanks like the Council on Foreign Relations.

In the wide-ranging discussion, the former Colorado senator and co-chair of the Commission of National Security for the 21st Century, touched on foreign and domestic issues, and the shortcomings on both he sees from Republicans and Democrats. Hart also:

  • criticized President Bush's approach to preventing another 9/11-like attack. "He has not done a damn thing about it," Hart said, despite warnings from the Hart-Rudman Commission in January of 2001 that an attack was imminent, if not unavoidable.
  • said Bush's approach to foreign policy reminded him of another popular, first-term Republican president from 20 years ago. "President Bush shares with Reagan a simple, if not simplistic, view of the world that serves him well."
  • said the Bush administration's domestic policies, including its tax plan, would "dismantle everything from the New Deal to the Great Society … '32 to'68."
  • said he sees parallels with the 1980s when it comes to the Democratic Party's paralyzed response to a popular president. Democrats in Congress, he said, rarely if ever have their own ideas and tend to focus on voting "up or down" on Mr. Bush's proposals.
  • complimented Rep. Dick Gephardt's health care proposal, saying the Missouri congressman should be applauded for making the issue central to his campaign.

    Of course, Hart could not escape without addressing the dreaded "process" questions of a potential candidacy. He said he has several ideas on how to run, including trying some new ideas on media strategy that he believes would be both innovative and inexpensive compared to the current campaign model. (The 50,000 "young people" Hart believes will volunteer for his campaign will also keep down costs.)

    He also bemoaned the changes he's seen in the 32 years since he ran George McGovern's 1972 campaign. In New Hampshire, Hart said Sen. John Edwards' campaign asks potential workers to sign employment contracts – a notion he finds insidious. "Can you imagine, asking someone to sign a contract to work on a campaign," Hart said.

    Hart was asked if 2004 could be the year he finally comes out of the political wilderness he's wandered since his infamous affair with Donna Rice imploded his '88 campaign.

    "I am not about to wait another 20 years," Hart said with a laugh, of sorts. "I'm 66,or is it 65," he joked, referring to the discrepancy over his name and age which dogged his 1984 campaign. A joke, by the way, that went over the heads of the younger members in attendance.

    Doctor's Up Next: Following in the footsteps – literally - of another Democratic presidential candidate, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean unveils his health care plan in Manhattan on Wednesday.

    Dean will make his speech to the same health workers union – SIEU/1199 - Dick Gephardt spoke to last week about his health care proposal, which Dean called politically unfeasible and "pie-in-the-sky." Dean, a doctor before becoming governor in 1991, touts his state's health system and the reforms it enacted to keep medical costs down during his tenure.

    Meanwhile, Gephardt's ambitious, nearly universal plan - which would be paid for by scrapping President Bush's 2001 tax cuts as well as any others instituted between now and January of 2005 – might be helping him in Iowa. A new Zogby poll shows Gephardt (the 1988 Iowa winner) opening a 12-point lead over his nearest rival, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts. Gephardt came in with 25 percent, followed by Kerry at 13 percent. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, whose campaign has been struggling in Iowa, dropped from 17 percent to 9 percent. The rest of the Democratic field was in the low single digits.

    Thirty-one percent of the likely caucus voters said they hadn't made up their minds, yet. That was down from 37 percent in January.

    However, there's good poll news for Lieberman in South Carolina, another key early voting state. In a new poll by the American Research Group, Lieberman leads among likely primary voters with 19 percent. Gephardt follows with 9 percent, Kerry with 8 percent and Edwards, from neighboring North Carolina, with 7 percent. The rest of the field was in the low single digits. Forty-seven percent remain undecided.

    Since January, Kerry moved up seven points from a scant 1 percent, while Edwards – a native son born in Seneca, S.C. - slipped a point from 8 percent.

    Gephardt could also get a big name endorsement soon. Roll Call reports that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California is said to be on the verge of endorsing Gephardt, who used to hold her job. While Gephardt is popular in the Democratic caucus, many members are holding back to see if a likely winner will emerge before endorsing. Gephardt and Lieberman have been spending the most energy wooing the members who are all automatic convention delegates.

    Congress Says No More Spam: Congress has a new crusade: eliminating spam from the nation's e-mail inboxes.

    Today, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., will talk about a bill, which he introduced yesterday, at the Federal Trade Commission's "Public Spam Forum," detailing how he would like to stop the mostly unwanted, and sometimes offensive,– e-mails. He claims the messages aren't only annoying but could ultimately put the Internet economy in danger.

    "What was once an annoyance is now really becoming an obstruction and can really, down the road, do real damage to our economy, our way of communicating," Schumer said. "If we don't do anything about it, e-mail will be rendered useless in a few years."

    Schumer's bill would create a "do-not-spam" list similar to the "do-not-call" lists that have been created around the country for telemarketers. His legislation would also impose strict criminal and civil penalties, including fines and jail time for repeat offenders.

    The Direct Marketers Association, which recently began to support stiffer guidelines for groups that send out spam, disagrees with the creation of a do-not-spam list saying it simply wouldn't work. "Such a list would only punish reputable marketers who would abide by it," the DMA said in a statement.

    Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., also introduced an anti-spam bill yesterday that would force e-mail solicitors to use "ADV" in the subject line of an e-mail to indicate it's an advertisement. "People are tired of hearing, 'You've got junk mail', when they open their e-mail in-boxes," said Lofgren.

    The DMA is also against Lofgren's proposal saying, "Clearly, labeling legislation can quickly lead to a slippery slope… whereby the government becomes the final arbiter of what can be said and how."

    The bill that the DMA does support is one sponsored by Sens. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., which would require e-mail marketers to provide a valid return address and an honest way for consumers to opt out of receiving their e-mails. Lofgren also includes this proposal in her bill.

    Meantime, Virginia yesterday imposed some of the toughest anti-spam laws to date, imposing a 5-year prison term and fines, among other criminal penalties, on marketers who hide their e-mail address or routing information.

    Quote of the Day: "If Manuel Estrada is the new nominee and would like to answer our questions ..." - House Democratic Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., chiding Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist for his repeated references on Tuesday to contested Bush judicial nominee Miguel Estrada as "Manuel Estrada." (CBS News Political Unit)

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