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Washington Wrap

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Dotty Lynch, Douglas Kiker, Steve Chaggaris, Clothilde Ewing, Sean Sharifi and Natasha Kuzovich of the CBS News Political Unit have the latest from the nation's capital.

Bye-Bye Bustamante? With the California recall less than a week away, the number of active candidates has shrunk from 135 to 132 with the withdrawal of Peter Ueberroth, Bill Simon and Arianna Huffington. Now there's word that Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante may be next.

The California Political Report says that Bustamante is "highly likely" to drop out of the race on Thursday. As "panic" over a possible Republican takeover spreads among state Democrats, Bustamante has come under a lot of pressure to withdraw his candidacy. Davis strategists have told CBS News that they they've always thought their best chance on defeating the recall would be to force voters to make a "clean choice" between Davis and Schwarzenegger.

Since joining the race, Bustamante has come under fire from many Democrats who felt he was giving California voters a mixed message, by virtually running for Governor and ignoring the first question on the ballot.

Regardless of Bustamante's decision, the race is becoming a more and more a two-man contest between Schwarzenegger and Davis. Davis has repeatedly challenged Schwarzenegger to a debate (which he has declined) and has limited his attacks to Schwarzenegger, with virtually no mention of the other 131 men and women who are looking to unseat him.

Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger stepped out on Wednesday and confidently described his 10-step plan for his first 100 days in office. He may want to continue with the campaigning though. Just as his last campaign push kicked off on Thursday, fresh allegations surfaced that he sexually harassed six women in the past, which is sure to hurt his chances with female voters.

Despite rumors of withdrawal, Bustamante has several campaign events Thursday including debate with State Sen. Tom McClintock and Green Party candidate Peter Camejo sponsored by KNBC and the League of Women Voters at 5pm PDT. in Los Angeles.

Jerk Of The Day: An aide to Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., resigned Thursday after it was discovered the staffer was running a Web site named for the tail number of the plane that crashed and killed former Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan in 2000.

The site - www.N8354N.blogspot.com - bashed Democrats with a blog and links to other sites, was taken down early Thursday morning. N8354N was the tail number of the plane carrying Carnahan, his son, Christopher, and an aide – all three of whom died.

Roy Temple, Carnahan's former chief of staff, was the one who traced the Web site to the Bond staffer and told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the site was "created as a cruel way to hurt people."

In explaining the use of the tail number as the Web site name, the site read, "The title of this blog marks an inflection point in current Missouri politics -- on that day, the worm began to turn."

Carnahan, who was campaigning for a Senate seat, was killed when the twin-engine plane, crashed on October 16, 2000. Carnahan went on to win the election over then-Sen. John Ashcroft posthumously and his wife, Jean, was named to replace him. She lost her bid to keep the seat to GOP Sen. Jim Talent in 2002.

Bond's office issued a statement Thursday announcing the firing but it did not mention the staffer by name.

"The actions of a member of my staff in using official computers to make hurtful personal attacks on public servants were totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated," Bond said. "I had no knowledge of this until last night. I offer my sincere apologies, and those of my staff, to all those offended by these messages."

The Left's Rupert Murdoch?: Al Gore's desire to start a left-leaning cable news outlet to counter-balance the Rush Limbaughs of the world (minus the racially insensitive stuff, we suspect) appears edging closer to reality.

Reuters reports that Gore and a group of investors are in talks to buy Newsworld International, a small cable channel owned by Vivendi Universal, for $70 million.

If the deal happens, Newsworld International could be set-up as a liberal-leaning alternative to the Fox News Channel. Fox News Channel has surged in the ratings in recent years to become most widely watched all-news channel in the country.

The New York Daily News reports that among Gore's investment group are ex-Democratic fund-raiser Joel Hyatt and media investment banker Steve Rattner.

Gore and Vivendi spokespeople refused to comment to Reuters on the negotiations, but a source told the news agency: "Vivendi is near a deal but the deal is not done yet."

Currently, Newsworld International is available is less than 20 million U.S. homes. It runs international newscasts. Vivendi Universal Entertainment, which is slated to become part of NBC soon, currently owns the channel.

Keeping Them Guessing: Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, who had told Democrats he was going to run for U.S. Senate next year, is reportedly not as sure about a bid.

Today, he indicated he still wasn't ready to formally announce his candidacy, one day after he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution he was unsure about running at all.

"I'm in the race, but I'm in the race my way," he said at the U.S. Capitol Thursday, according to the AP. "Either you're in or you're out, and right now I'm in – in the process."

Yesterday, the 71-year-old Young admitted to the Journal-Constitution that he was "torn" about another political run. "I'm trying to figure out the best thing for me to do to have a role in the national debate," he told the newspaper. "And I'm not sure if that role should be as a candidate."

"It's not the simple decision to run or not run that I first thought," he added. "I'm really struggling with it."

Other Georgia Democrats have held off on jumping into the race to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Zell Miller because of Young's supposed impending candidacy. Both Michelle Nunn, the 36-year-old daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn, and Rep. Jim Marshall said they wouldn't run if Young does.

In other congressional campaign news, rumors that House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., may retire are apparently untrue. Roll Call reports that he will seek re-election in 2004, silencing talk about a potential showdown for the speakership between Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

"I haven't made my announcement yet, but I do intend to run for re-election," Hastert told Roll Call after meeting Wednesday with DeLay, Blunt and GOP Conference Chair Deborah Pryce. "I just wanted to let my leadership know that."

Quote of the Day: "Philadelphia Jets." – A press release from Howard Dean's campaign on the Rush Limbaugh-Donovan McNabb controversy. The campaign later sent a correction to read the Philadelphia EAGLES.