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Washington Wrap

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

Let's Get Ready To Rumble: With less than five weeks to go in the California recall, five of the 135 candidates are hitting the stage Wednesday night for their first debate. But rather than focusing on who will be there, much of the talk is of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has decided to skip the event.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the candidates who were asked to participate qualified by receiving at least 4 percent support in either the most recent Field Poll or the last statewide vote. That puts Gov. Gray Davis, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, state Sen. Tom McClintock, former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth, commentator Arianna Huffington and Green Party activist Peter Camejo Jr. center stage.

However, like the recall election itself, this debate is far from ordinary. Davis will appear alone in the first 30 minutes of the two-hour session, and will answer questions from a moderator, a panel of reporters and people chosen by debate organizers. After he leaves the stage, the five candidates vying to replace him will appear jointly in a similar format.

All is not completely lost with Arnold, though. He has agreed to participate in one debate on Sept. 24 in Sacramento. In that debate, sponsored by the California Broadcasters Association, the candidates will get the questions ahead of time and have the luxury of preparing their answers in advance.

Meanwhile, Dianne Feinstein hits the airwaves on Wednesday in two television commercials opposing the recall effort. In both commercials, the popular senator looks at the camera head on and explains to voters why she is voting no on the recall; most notably because it is bad for California and because the governor deserves a chance to work on issues Californians care about. Interestingly, Feinstein does not refer to any of the candidates by name. She refers to "the governor" in both ads, but does not mention Davis by name – or Bustamante, who many Democrats are plugging as a backup candidate should the recall pass.

Feinstein's anti-recall ads are running in areas with traditional Democratic support: Los Angeles, the Bay Area and Monterey. They are expected run for a week at a cost of $1 million.

Thanks, But We'll Still Grill You: Within minutes after landing in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday, the John Kerry for President campaign informed the press that the candidate would be making an "unscheduled stop" before announcement speech number two.

CBS News' Steve Chaggaris reports the candidate's convoy wound up at the corner of Watrous Ave. and SE 14th St. at the Classic Frozen Custard shop, which featured a sign reading, "Be Cool, Stop Here."

Sen. Kerry proceeded to walk up to the counter and order some frozen custard, a local favorite ("This is my fix," he said), much like his cheesesteak stop in Philadelphia a few weeks back. Not only did he treat himself and his wife, but he offered the traveling press frozen custard cones, too.

"We're treating the poor fourth estate," Kerry quipped as he handed out cones to reporters, who were already over their sugar quota from munching on Teresa's brownies. (On Wednesday, Mrs. Kerry told reporters on the press plane that the secret to her brownies, which she has dubbed "Mama T's Brownies," is an occasional touch of Kaluha, brandy or Irish whiskey – a sure way to please the press corps.)

The senator then sat down and chatted with five local kids, who he also supplied with custard. And while the photo-op went extremely well, rumors of a shakeup within the Kerry camp were beginning to brew. Free custard notwithstanding, the event wound up turning into a grilling session about who was going to get canned from the campaign. Said Kerry: "You always hold the possibility open; if something's not working you do something. I always reserve the right to do what I need to do to run a good campaign."

That, of course, ratcheted up the rumor mill to a temperature hot enough to melt the custard. By the time everyone arrived at the Des Moines destination, Kerry officially put the rumors to rest, stating: "I have assembled a great team that is going to beat George W. Bush, any rumors to the contrary are completely erroneous and there will be no changes."

Nonetheless Kerry campaign sources told CBS News that there was a significant brouhaha over the announcement speech and predicted things "could come to a head" sometime soon.

Shortly afterwards, Kerry addressed his Iowa supporters, giving virtually the same announcement speech he delivered earlier in Charleston, S.C. Today, Kerry winds up his two-day announcement tour in New Hampshire and Boston.

Tonight, Kerry will start running television ads in Iowa and New Hampshire. The 30-second spot features footage from his stump speech on Tuesday night in Des Moines. Media advisers call the quick turnaround ads "real-time" campaigning.

Hispanics Up for Grabs: As the Democratic presidential candidates prep for Thursday night's first DNC debate in Albuquerque – sponsored by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson – new studies show that Hispanic voters aren't politically monolithic and tend to buck traditional models of both Democratic and Republican voters.

The AP reports that pollsters from both parties agree that Hispanics have started to become a less dependable Democratic bloc than in the past, but that Republican have yet to make headway on luring them to the GOP.

Since the 2000 Census showed the stunning growth of the Hispanic population in the United States, both parties have undertaken massive efforts to woo the crucial voting group. Expect each of the Democratic candidates to present themselves as the most Hispanic-friendly during the Albuquerque debate, and, of course, to ceaselessly praise Richardson, who will chair the party's 2004 convention in Boston.

Sergio Bendixen, pollster for the New Democrat Network political action committee, said in a conference call with reporters that the changing demographics of the Hispanic population are causing the political shift.

"It formerly was dominated by U.S.-born Hispanics and they were part of the Democratic base," he said. But, Bendixen continued, half the Hispanic voter population is now foreign-born and Spanish speaking.

"These new voters have become swing voters. They can no longer be classified as part of the Democratic base," he said.

A study released on Tuesday by the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center found that in the 2000 election, most Hispanics favored Democrats over Republicans by wide margins, save for Cuban-Americans, who voted for Republicans by a 2-to-1 margin.

Echoing the pollsters' belief that Hispanic voters could be increasingly difficult to categorize, the Annenberg study found that while they tend to agree with Democrats on social issues, Hispanics are more conservative and generally reflect the Republican Party on social issues like abortion and school vouchers.

Louisiana Candidate Yanks Bush Ad: The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that former Bush administration official and Louisiana gubernatorial candidate Bobby Jindal yanked an ad featuring images of President Bush just hours after it began airing on Tuesday after the White House complained that the spot could imply the administration had endorsed Jindal over his two GOP rivals in the Oct. 4 election.

The paper reports that Jindal, who served two years in the Bush administration as an assistant secretary in the Department of Health and Human Services, said through a spokesman that he agreed to alter the ad "out of respect to the president."

"The White House was concerned about the use of the Bush image in the ad, inferring that they thought it might mean an endorsement," Jindal spokesman Trey Williams told the paper. "We agreed with them, and what we're going to do is change the ad."

There are three Republicans among the eight gubernatorial candidates in the Oct. 4 primary, and the White House has tried to avoid playing favorites. Besides Jindal, Public Service Commission Chairman Jay Blossman and state Rep. Hunt Downer are running to replace Republican Gov. Mike Foster.

Jindal's 30-second ad showed two brief pictures of the president, including one with Mr. Bush and Jindal shaking hands and an announcer saying the president, "called on Bobby Jindal to be one of his top advisers."

Williams said the campaign did not seek White House permission before using the images because the spot was biographical in nature.

"Not at all was this ad meant to imply that we had an endorsement from President Bush," Williams said, before he learned of the complaints. "All we did was basically tell that Bobby had worked in the Bush administration."

Quote of the Day: "If this cruel, loudmouth extremist is the cream of the Democratic crop, next November's going to make the 1984 election look like a squeaker." – Republican House Majority Leader Tom Delay on Howard Dean. (San Antonio Express News)