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Washington Wrap

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



Maybe Graham Needs More Than "I Can Win Florida" As A Theme: Florida Sen. Bob Graham is undefeated in 37 years in Florida politics, including five statewide bids, but a poll conducted by Mason-Dixon for the Orlando Sentinel shows him trailing President Bush by 15 points in the state as he formally begins his Democratic presidential campaign.

The poll of 400 likely Florida voters conducted April 26-28 showed President Bush at 53 percent and Graham at 38 percent. "These numbers will tighten," Brad Coker of Mason Dixon told the Sentinel. "Bush is running a bit of a postwar popularity wave right now… But if Graham is able to navigate the waters of the Democratic nominating process that will strengthen him at home," the pollster predicted.

The 66-year-old senator and former governor has been stressing his electability and especially his ability to carry Florida in the early stage of the campaign. "I'm Bob Graham and I represent the electable wing of the Democratic Party," were his closing words in Saturday's Democratic presidential debate in South Carolina.

His attack on the Bush administration for using military force in Iraq to "settle old scores" drew fire from the Florida Republican Party. "The people of Florida are proud of the role our military bases and large military population played in making our world a safer place. Sen. Graham's anti-war rhetoric just won't play well here," said Florida GOP Chair Carol Jean Gordon.

Not-So-News Flash … Soft Money Lives!: The Washington Post reports that Democrats have established a pair of shadow political organizations that will allow soft money to be funneled to Democratic House and Senate campaigns. The plan for soft money to be raised and spent by the two political action committees – the Democratic Senate Majority Fund and the New House PAC – has the tacit backing of party leaders in both houses, including Nancy Pelosi and Tom Daschle.

The New House PAC has a fundraiser Wednesday night in Washington, headlined by Pelosi and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, which will start by raising only "hard money" donations - the regulated and limited type still permitted under McCain-Feingold. Daschle will headline a similar event for the Senate group next week.

As the Post describes the New House PAC's intentions: "The overt blessing of Pelosi, Hoyer and other party leaders is crucial to the group, which hopes to convince potential donors that it is the new surrogate for the Democratic committees no longer allowed to take soft money."

Later in the year, however, both groups plan to ask for soft money contributions, which the national parties and their respective campaign committees are forbidden from accepting under McCain-Feingold – sort of. Last week's muddled decision by a three-judge panel on the validity of McCain-Feingold lifted the ban on parties accepting soft money.

At the same time, the court decision upheld the part of the law that forbids lawmakers from soliciting soft money. Party-affiliated campaign committees like the DSCC and DCCC run by lawmakers and therefore not allowed to raise soft money, which for Democrats in particular has been a staple of their financial base for years. Democrats fear that waiting for a Supreme Court ruling on McCain-Feingold could leave them in a financial hole in 2004.

Republicans have had much better luck raising hard money over the years, and have raised three times as much as Democrats in the first quarter of 2003. The GOP is also working to set up similar shadow groups, the Post reports, but is waiting to formally open them for business until the Supreme Court rules in McCain-Feingold. One such group, the Leadership Forum, had to return $1 million in seed money from the National Republican Congressional Committee after the FEC determined the money violated McCain-Feingold.

The New House PAC will be run by 2002 DCCC chief Howard Wolfson and finance director Jonathan Mantz. Marc Farinella, a former aide to late Gov. Mel Carnahan of Missouri, will run the Democratic Senate Majority Fund. The groups will be on the same floor of a downtown Washington office building.

Wolfson tells the Post: "It's hard to raise [soft] money if members of Congress can't ask for it … At the same time, the fact that members of Congress are supporting our hard-money effort … does send and important" signal.

"In three weeks I can go to Microsoft and say … Daschle, [Senate Minority Whip Harry] Reid and other senators are committed to this organization … Yes, I can have a conversation like that. Their presence makes it clear that they think this is an important organization that will ultimately make a difference to help Democrats regain the Senate," Farinella told the Post.

Dems Set Sail Against Bush: Congressional Democrats are beginning their drumbeat against President Bush and his recent landing on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.

Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V., took to the floor Tuesday to harshly criticize the president calling Mr. Bush's landing and speech on the Lincoln "grand theater" and "gaudy excesses of a political campaign."

"As I watched the president's fighter jet swoop down onto the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, I could not help but contrast the reported simple dignity of President Lincoln at Gettysburg with the flamboyant showmanship of President Bush aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln," Byrd said.

He continued: "I am loath to think of an aircraft carrier being used as an advertising backdrop for a presidential political slogan, and yet that is what I saw."

"War is not theater, and victory is not a campaign slogan," Byrd added. "I believe that our military forces deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, and not used as stage props to embellish a presidential speech."

As criticism mounts, especially about the cost of the event to taxpayers, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer explained, before Byrd's remarks, that the president wanted "to see an arrival on a carrier the same way pilots got to see an arrival on a carrier. As it did get closer, he could have taken a helicopter out there if he had wanted to. He chose not to."

Fleischer's revelation that Mr. Bush could have opted for a less dramatic entrance via helicopter prompted House Government Reform Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., to ask the Government Accounting Office to look into the event's cost to taxpayers, saying it had "clear political overtones."

Waxman wrote in a letter to Comptroller General David Walker: "The Administration has provided conflicting accounts of the reasons for the President's dramatic visit to the aircraft carrier by jet… Today, [Fleischer] admitted that the President could have traveled to the carrier… less theatrically."

The Comeback Chicks: The Dixie Chicks are slowly easing back into public favor and the two-month long ban on their music is not stopping them from mixing politics with music. The Arkansas News Bureau reports that Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., will hold a fundraiser during a summer Dixie Chicks concert in Washington, D.C.

Lincoln's spokesman, Drew Goesl, said the plans for the June 25 fundraiser were set four days before Natalie Maines told the London crowd that she was "ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." Goesl added, "Sen. Lincoln does not agree with what the Dixie Chicks said, but does support the right of free speech."

The wall is starting to crumble in other quarters as well. The nation's second largest radio chain lifted its eight-week ban on the hot country trio, although not soon enough for two Colorado DJs. The Los Angeles Times reports that station KKCS-FM's Dave Moore and Jeff Singer were suspended this week for playing the Dixie Chicks even though the listener response was 75 percent in favor of the move. Maybe the crowd's positive reaction to the Dixie Chicks' opening tour last week in Greenville, S.C. made the radio industry change its mind.

And last Friday night at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner preceding the South Carolina debate, Democratic activists and presidential candidates "whooped and hollered" while the Chicks' songs filled the hall, the Richmond Times Dispatch reported.

Quote of the Day: "'I've got a doc with me 24 hours a day who watches me very carefully … There's one outside there now … He's part of the entourage who supports me. The president has one and I have one. So everything looks good to go." – Vice President Dick Cheney on any concerns he has regarding his health. Cheney, who has had four heart attacks, although none while VP, said that he's accepted President Bush's invitation to be his running mate in 2004. (Dallas Morning News)

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