Washington Wrap

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

Power To The People: On a day he was trying to focus on campaign finance, Howard Dean was forced Wednesday to apologize for his controversial remarks that the Democratic Party must court Southerners who display the Confederate flag in their pickup trucks.

Speaking in New York, Dean cited Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln as he expressed "regret" for "the pain that I have caused."

Dean was in New York to formally announce his plan to let supporters decide whether his campaign should accept federal election financing. Over the last few months, Dean has been weighing whether to forgo matching funds for the primaries. Now, he's decided to leave that decision – ostensibly, at least - up to thousands of his backers.

In (what else?) an e-mail, the Internet-savvy campaign first announced the plan at midnight on Tuesday to around 500,000 supporters who previously registered on Dean's Web site. After praising supporters for helping stage a political revolution of sorts, Dean tried to walk the tightrope by proclaiming his support for public financing as it was intended, while appearing to also sell his case for skipping the funds. "Soon our opportunity to compete dollar-for-dollar against George Bush's army of special interests may be gone. If we accept federal matching funds, our spending will be capped at $45 million -- and the greatest grassroots movement in the history of presidential politics will be stopped from raising money almost immediately and will reach the spending limit well before the end of the primaries."

Although the campaign says Dean has not made up his mind, the L.A. Times reports that Dean told potential supporters he had already decided to forgo the public financing while he was campaigning in California. Either way, Dean wins. Regardless of whether he takes the funds or not, he puts the onus on the people. The move could set off a domino effect among rivals, chiefly John Kerry, who has said in the past that he would consider forgoing financing if his rivals, Dean in particular, choose to. President Bush has already pulled out for the primaries, as he did in 2000, but according to the campaign they will accept public financing for the general election.

Supporters will receive a ballot via e-mail on Thursday and will have until midnight Friday to vote. Supporters can also vote via the Internet and the old-fashioned U.S. mail or telephone. If the campaign ultimately decides to forgo the funds, Dean would make history once again, but this time for being the first Democrat to abandon the public finance system in the primaries.

Southern Discomfort: To put it mildly, it's been a bad week for Democrats in the South.

Kicking things off on Monday, Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., decided against running for a fourth term, dramatically increasing the GOP's chances of picking up a seat most believed Graham would easily hold. Combined with decisions by three other Southern Democratic senators -- Zell Miller of Georgia, Ernest Hollings of South Carolina and John Edwards of North Carolina – not to seek re-election from their increasingly Republican-trending, Bush-loving states, it could be a painful Nov. 2, 2004 for Democrats hoping to re-capture the U.S. Senate.

On Tuesday, of course, Democrats lost two Southern governorships. The victories by Republicans Ernie Fletcher in Kentucky and Haley Barbour in Mississippi aren't likely to effect President Bush's chances in either state in 2004: He's widely expected to win them both. But, for Democrats, it's another sign that the once-solid South could be slipping from their grip entirely.

Basking in the glow of his second and third big wins (after California) since becoming Republican National Committee chairman, Ed Gillespie released a statement on Tuesday mocking Kentucky's Ben Chandler for "making this race a referendum on the president's economic policies."

"The Democrats had their referendum and got their answer," Gillespie said in the statement (and in a preview of what he'll say at a Wednesday on-camera newser in Washington.)

Overall, Gillespie said the wins in California, Kentucky and Mississippi mean, "we move into 2004 with the wind at our backs and momentum on our side. These victories in three very different states reflect the fact that voters want candidates with a positive message and a positive agenda and are rejecting the protest and pessimism that have characterized Democrat campaigns at all levels and in all parts of the country."

Making matters even worse for Democrats in the South is the fact that Republican Bobby Jindal is running strong in the Louisiana governors race, which will be held on Nov. 15.

In the very short good news column for Democrats, Philly Mayor John Street held onto his job by a wide margin over GOP challenger Sam Katz despite (or perhaps because of) a federal investigation into possible corruption in City Hall.

Choosing one of the few places he could gloat about winning something, DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe appeared at Street's celebration party on Tuesday, saying, "This is a great night for Democrats in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is significant, this is a key state for Democrats. ... We have to win Pennsylvania to regain the White House in 2004," repoerts thhe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

CBSNews.com has complete coverage of the gubernatorial races, the Philadelphia mayoral race and some of the wacky ballot initiatives passed and rejected on Tuesday.

Women's Issues: On the day that President Bush signs into law a bill that bans some late-term abortions, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and several New Hampshire-based groups will sponsor a primarily pro-choice candidates' forum in the Granite State. The long-scheduled debate will focus on "a wide range of issues important to women," Planned Parenthood President Gloria Feldt told CBS News.

The forum will feature Wesley Clark, John Kerry, John Edwards, Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich and Carol Moseley Braun. Notably absent are Dick Gephardt and Joe Lieberman. As to why some candidates are missing, Feldt was coy, telling CBS News, "Every candidate has priorities and I think the ones who are participating show that they think women are important."

The double-scheduling of an incomplete forum with President Bush's signing of the abortion ban highlights how fractured the pro-choice lobby has become. When the late-term abortion bill passed, it did so with the support of Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. Among presidential candidates, Sens. Kerry and Lieberman voted against the measure. But unlike 2000 when Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., and Vice President Al Gore were both strongly pro-choice, some presidential candidates this time would have supported the late-term bill with minor alterations: Rep. Gephardt, D-Mo., who missed the vote, said he would have opposed it without an exception for the mother's health. And in 2002, Rep. Kucinich, D-Ohio, voted for the measure.

According to Feldt, this splintering has not gone unnoticed. She said Planned Parenthood was very likely to endorse a presidential candidate this year, a first for the organization. Saying that current political control gives the issue "special salience," Feldt noted, "The stakes for American women are so high this year, we can't shy away."

But if Feldt was hoping the forum would be a chance to "educate the public and maybe educate the candidates," in favor of pro-choice goals, the feeling in the pro-life camp is that the battle is already won. According to the National Right to Life Committee, the bill is "the culmination of an eight-year struggle." As generally pro-choice Democrats take the stage tonight in New Hampshire, it seems likely that the Washington bill signing will be an issue.
Quote of the Day: "Gray Davis has not ruled out a run for governor in 2006. Talk about a guy who can't get a clue. Perhaps Ben and J-Lo should consider working on 'Gigli 2'." – Jay Leno on soon-to-depart California Gov. Gray Davis. ("Tonight Show" via Wake-Up Call!)