Washington Wrap

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

Senate Retirement Talk: Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., who has spent the last 23 years in the Senate, has decided four terms is enough.

Nickles announced Tuesday in Oklahoma City that he won't seek a fifth term in 2004, putting another GOP seat up for grabs in the Senate. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., has already indicated he's not running again. On the Democratic side, Sens. John Edwards, D-N.C., and Zell Miller, D-Ga., have announced their retirements as well.

If he decided to run again, the 54-year-old Nickles would have had no problem holding onto his seat. But he had indicated in recent weeks that he was seriously asking himself if he could spend 30 years in the Senate, the amount of time he would have been there if he was re-elected.

Nickles' announcement gives Oklahoma its first open Senate seat since 1994 and there is no shortage of candidates who may consider jumping in. On the Republican side, Rep. Ernest Istook and Oklahoma City mayor Kirk Humphreys have been mentioned as possible candidates. Potential Democrats include Rep. Brad Carson, state attorney general Drew Edmondson and state treasurer Robert Butkin.

Meantime, Louisiana is abuzz over rumors that Sen. John Breaux, D-La., is considering stepping down early if Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco wins the state's gubernatorial election on Nov. 15. A Blanco victory would allow her to appoint another Democrat to replace Breaux, who is up for re-election in 2004.

Breaux and his confidants are mum about his plans, however. "We hear what y'all hear," Lynn Breaux, the senator's cousin, told the Baton Rouge Advocate. "Yes. No. Maybe so."

"I have a tough decision to make," added Sen. Breaux. "If I want to do something else in my life, this is the time to do it."

That something else may be K Street. Interestingly enough, there's been talk that Breaux and, of all people, Nickles could join forces and start their own lobbying firm. Nickles told Roll Call a couple of weeks ago that the two have discussed it, though it may have been in jest. "We tease each other about it," Nickles said.

DeLay Delayed: Even The Hammer – the nickname given to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay for his strong-arm tactics on Capitol Hill and K Street – couldn't work out a deal Monday on Texas' proposed GOP-friendly congressional redistricting plan. The House and Senate passed different versions of the plan to redraw the district boundaries, and a conference committee had been tasked with working out a deal.

As a result of the impasse among Republican leaders in the Texas legislature, the Lone Star State likely will be forced to delay its March 2 presidential primary date.

The AP reports that DeLay shuffled between Gov. Rick Perry's office and the office of House Republican Speaker Tom Craddick trying to work out a deal – to no avail.

But GOP leaders, who have bicameral control, didn't seem overly concerned about having to move the primary date, no doubt because it won't really affect their chosen candidate, George W. Bush, who won't face a challenge for the nomination.

"If that's what's required, then that's what's required," Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, told the AP. Another GOP leader, Rep. Phil King, told the AP it was irrelevant when the state's primary occurs since Texas will go for Bush in the general election.

The GOP leaders agreed to meet again on Wednesday to discuss the redistricting plan, which likely would result in reversing the Democrats' current 17-15 advantage in the 32-member delegation.

Just last spring the Texas legislature voted to move up the primary a week to have it fall on "Super Tuesday" in hopes of increasing the state's influence on the presidential nomination process, the AP reports.

Clark Registers as a Democrat: Wesley Clark joined an exclusive club last Friday. He officially registered as a Democrat with the Pulaski County board of elections. Only 4 percent of Arkansans are affiliated with a party. Included in the group of unaffiliated Arkansans are former Deputy White House Counsel Bruce Lindsay and the head of Arkansas' Democratic Party, according to Kym Spell, Clark spokesperson.

Clark spent some time on Monday at the Drake Diner where a few months ago former presidential candidate Bob Graham served up some food. Clark worked the crowd and had a few interesting exchanges reports CBS News' Bonney Kapp:

"The candidate dropped by during the lunch rush, courting an equal mix of supporters and unsuspecting diners. It seemed as though many of the politically savvy Iowans weren't going to let Clark off easy.

WC: I'm Wes Clark and I'd like your support.
Diner: I'll certainly give you a lot of consideration.

WC: You've got a lot of people looking at you, and I don't want to embarrass you by asking you…I need support because I came late in the race.
Diner: I thought you were the front- runner.
WC: I am. I'm the one who can beat George Bush…and he knows it.

WC: I'm Wes Clark, I'm running for President and I'd like to have your support.
Diner: You just tell me why.

When talking to a Drake U professor:
WC: Wes Clark, I'm looking for your support.
Prof: (laughing) Well, we haven't made any decisions yet.
WC: Well, you need to make a decision! How many candidates have you met?
Diner: All of them.
WC: REALLY!?!

When talking to a man in Army fatigues and a potential recruit about troops in Iraq:
WC: They did a great job over there.

Also asked the recruit if he read his book, "Waging Modern War":
WC: You gotta read my book—there's a lot about Apaches in it.

The Clark campaign is still in formation but campaign chairman Eli Segal and former UN Ambassador Dick Sklar are taking a very hands-on approach in Little Rock. Arkansan Vanessa Weaver is the chief of staff and Mark Fabiani is the communications strategist, working out of California. And in Iowa and New Hampshire there are a number of former workers for Bob Graham who are suddenly available to the General.

(Mostly) Rapid Response: It didn't take long for some of the Democratic presidential candidates to respond to Sen. Bob Graham dropping out of the race. In fact, several had their comments out within minutes of Graham's announcement.

Rep. Dick Gephardt was the first to respond – his campaign sent out an e-mail at 9:59pm ET, appoxiimately two minutes after Graham's announcement. "While he'll be missed on the campaign trail, I know that his thoughtful, intelligent voice will not be silent in the US Senate," Gephardt said.

In a close second, Sen. Joe Lieberman's comments were e-mailed at 10:00pm: "Bob Graham is a patriot and a great Democrat. His voice made this contest richer and more thoughtful."

Coming in at 10:01 was Sen. John Kerry's statement: "I am disappointed that Bob Graham has decided to end his campaign for the Presidency. Bob has been a friend and a colleague for 17 years. His dedication to public service, his tireless commitment to those he represents and his values and love of family brought an important perspective to this campaign that will be missed."

Journalists' inboxes were quiet for 20 minutes until 10:21 when Gen. Wesley Clark's remarks were e-mailed out. ""I look forward to Senator Graham's advice and counsel as the campaign against George Bush moves forward."

It was another 18 minutes before Howard Dean's camp sent their candidate's reaction: "I will miss seeing Bob Graham on the campaign trail. … He was an honorable opponent who treated his fellow aspirants for the Democratic nomination with respect."

Shortly thereafter, at 10:40, Sen. John Edwards said, "Senator Bob Graham is one of our nation's most dedicated and respected leaders. He has offered a voice of strength, intelligence, and patriotism throughout this Democratic primary."

Bringing up the rear is former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, who piped in on Tuesday, a full 13 hours after Graham bailed out. Of all the responses, Moseley Braun seems the most personally affected by Graham's decision. While the others focused their statements on Graham, Moseley Braun said, "His leaving the race only strengthens my resolve to run for the Presidency. I will continue to deliver my message of peace, prosperity and progress to the American people."

Quote of the Day: President Bush says Arnold Schwarzenegger has waged a "spirited campaign" for governor in California, and has "captured a lot of people's imagination." and "if he's the governor I will work with him. (AP)