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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.

Kickoff: Thursday night's DNC-sponsored debate among the nine Democratic presidential hopefuls could be a barnburner, with the primaries and caucuses rapidly approaching and eight of the candidates looking for a boost. Falling during the quadrennial kickoff week to the presidential campaign season – at least for 99.9999999 percent of Americans who haven't been living and breathing it for the last year – the debate could prove a good show.

"I think there will be some fireworks," debate moderater New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson told the AP. "This is the opening bell of the campaign … They'll come out swinging."

No doubt a prime target will be former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, whose rise in the polls could put him in his rivals' line of fire.

The debate, sponsored by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Gov. Bill Richardson, likely will focus on Hispanic issues to some extent. Hispanics make up 42 percent of New Mexico's population, and the questions will be asked in both Spanish and English. The 8-9:30pm EDT debate will air on PBS Thursday. It's being co-produced by the country's largest Spanish-language network, Univision, which will air a Spanish language simulcast.

While everyone will be watching for Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts to take swipes at Dean, the other wannabes will try to improve their standings, as well. Sen. Joe Lieberman could be another Dean attacker; he said on Sunday that he's concerned Dean "cannot win" against Preisdent Bush.

The AP reports that Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina has practiced extensively, including having aides stand in for his rivals in mock debates. Rep. Dick Gephardt will try to focus on trade issues that appeal to his labor-heavy supporters.

Richardson, meanwhile, tells the AP that he's not interested in being the party's vice presidential candidate in 2004. He said he's focused on running for re-election in 2006 and working to increase New Mexico's national exposure. Richardson is also chairman of the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and said that would preclude him from being the VP candidate.

"I'm very firm. I'll reiterate to anyone who asks. I'm committed to run for re-election," said the former energy secretary, congressman and U.N. ambassador with, we assume, a very slight smile on his face.

The last half hour of the debate will be up against NFL season's opening game between the Redskins and the New York Jets. Any bets about who'll win the ratings in the 9-9:30 block?

MoveOn.Org At It Again: The Texas 11 lost one of its members and may have lost the redistricting battle as a result, but the remaining ten Democratic lawmakers aren't ready to throw in the towel, and neither are their supporters.

Seven of the renegade Texas state senators met separately with presidential contenders Dick Gephardt and Howard Dean in Albuquerque ahead of Thursday's big debate to discuss the national implications of the GOP-backed redistricting plan. The remaining three senators met with organizers of the Democratic Web site MoveOn.org in Washington to discuss how the redistricting plan follows a trend of "Republican-sponsored anti-democratic efforts".

Moveon.org says it has raised over $1 million in one week from over 30,000 donors to aid the Texas legislators. The organization has already started an aggressive ad campaign with a print ad that challenges President Bush. With a picture of his face in the middle of the Texas flag, the top of the ad reads: "Hey, President Bush: Don't mess with Texas. Don't mess with Democracy." The ad appeared in Thursday's New York Times and MoveOn plans to start running the ad in Texas, other swing states and nationally.

Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., who had offered sanctuary to the Texans, also cautioned the Republicans that their "big power grab" in Texas might force him to put redistricting before New Mexico's special legislative session in October. "I don't want to use it as a threat," Mr.Richardson told the Times. "It's just an option."

Tying in with tonight's DNC/Hispanic Caucus debate, the MoveOn ad claims that the Texas redistricting plan hurts 1.4 million Hispanic and other minority voters and calls it the "worst setback for minority voting rights in four decades."

Something To Blog Home About: Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards has "joined the blog bandwagon" according to the Political Wire. Blogs are the new "in" things in politics this year and Howard Dean's has been the model for political grassroots organizing. Edwards' Web site advertises, "New to blogging, so are we," and offers some easy steps to getting started.

Edwards has some good news to kick off his blog. Two new polls in the Carolinas show him finally starting to move. In the crucial state of South Carolina, a new Zogby poll shows him at the top of the heap, although he's bunched with Dean, Kerry and Lieberman. The poll of 501 likely Democratic primary voters, conducted Sept. 2-3, has Edwards at 10 percent (up from 5 percent in July), Howard Dean at 9 percent (up from 4 percent), John Kerry at 8 percent (up from 5 percent) and Joe Lieberman at 8 percent (down from 13 percent two months ago).

Success in South Carolina is crucial to both the Lieberman and Edwards, and this movement, although tiny, shows that Edwards may be making some headway. Pollster John Zogby, however, cautions that "the campaign is not even on the radar screen in South Carolina. While Edwards and Dean have made gains since our last poll, it's more like a bump n a carpet than a surge."

But, for Edwards, who is getting some pressure to get out of the presidential race and focus his energies on reelection to the Senate, that bump may give him the staying power he needs to keep going until the voters start to pay more attention. His ads went up in South Carolina on August 18 and the campaign is encouraged that voters are starting to respond.

"Fifty percent of the voters still don't know who he is," Jennifer Palmieri, Edwards campaign spokesman told CBS News, "so we have lots of room to grow."

Wrapping Up The Kick-off: Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., ended his busy two-day announcement tour by releasing his first campaign ads in Iowa and rallying his troops in his backyard of New Hampshire and Massachusetts. A Kerry campaign source told CBS News they think the surprise Dean ads in the summer accounted for his surge and hope the Kerry buy will bring things back to parity.

The ads began airing Wednesday in Iowa, in what is described by advisers as a "significant ad buy," and were edited immediately following his speech Tuesday night in Des Moines.

Using clips from his kick-off speech there, the campaign put together two ads. "Strength" features Kerry saying, "We need to be on the side of America's middle class, and a tax cut for them is the right way to strengthen our economy." And "Iowa Announcement" has Kerry saying, "Your courage can make sure we do what's right for our country, and I am honored to join you as a candidate for the President of the United States of America."

Interestingly, the end of both ads show Kerry walking off the stage with the crowd cheering and loud music in the background. Then he turns to the camera and says, "I'm John Kerry and I approve this message," fulfilling a provision in the new campaign finance law currently awaiting its validity in the Supreme Court.

Kerry will begin airing a new set of ads today in New Hampshire featuring clips from his Wednesday events there and in Boston.

His Boston rally was easily his largest to date with "four to five thousand tops" attending the event at Faneuil Hall, according to Boston Police on the scene.

Earlier in New Hampshire, the tone was a bit more serious at an event where the candidate literally shed a tear.

During a roundtable discussion with six unemployed New Hampshire residents at MaryAnn's Diner in Derry, Barbara Woodman of Concord told her story about how she was laid off but still vowed to send her kids to college. Kerry was overcome with emotion and a couple of tears fell down his face.

"That's very moving. It really is," he said as he wiped away a tear. "It's very moving. It's tough."

Quote of the Day: "This guy owes me bacon now. I mean there's no two ways about it because, I mean, you can't just have eggs without bacon." – Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was hit by a raw egg thrown at him during a campaign appearance in Long Beach, Calif. (AP)