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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.

Lights, Cameras, Karl: These days, when political "It Boy" Karl Rove makes a public appearance, it's front-page news – at least in the Washington Post. Rove, President Bush's top adviser on matters political - and everything else, if the tales of his Rasputin-like power are accurate – spent Wednesday in New Hampshire discussing the president's domestic agenda, the importance of the war on terror and, of course, Mr. Bush's rapidly growing re-election effort.

Rove, trailed by at least half the Washington political press corps, made a pair of public speeches, including one at St. Anselm College that the Post reports drew more people than either Rep. Dick Gephardt or Sen. John Edwards - two people actually running for president. Rove also met with several local reporters and had a private sit-down with the publisher of the right-leaning Manchester Union Leader.

Rove, who told reporters "I want to avoid making news," said this would be his last presidential campaign. "I've had my two," the Web site reports. He also said that Mr. Bush's re-election campaign would start "later rather than sooner" (more on that below) and that the president, even if he faces no GOP opposition, would campaign hard in the Granite State to "respect the process."

Rove also said, however, that the state's key early voting status might not last beyond the 2008 election. "I am not sure how good a predictor it is," the Boston Globe reports Rove as saying. [Some of that might have to do with Mr. Bush's 19-point loss to John McCain in 2000, of which Rove said: "Despite the fact that I had one rather bad night here, I have rather fond memories of New Hampshire," The New York Times reports.]

Rove also discussed the timing of the Republican and Democratic national conventions, including the GOP's late date. Rove said DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe tried to push the GOP into holding their convention during the Summer Olympics – a strategy that backfired when Republicans broke with standard protocol and moved their convention to early September in New York, which will allow them to delay receiving federal matching funds by nearly a month. Rove told the Times that McAuliffe "crowed to people about how smart he was, how he booby-trapped the Republicans."

With the end of the war against Iraq, Mr. Bush's re-election has started generating news. This week, for example, Dick Cheney announced he'll be Mr. Bush's running mate again, RNC Chairman Marc Racicot's name was floated as the likely Bush campaign chairman, and the likely northern Virginia location of the campaign headquarters was revealed. The Times also reports that Cheney will hit the fundraising trail as early as this summer.

Meehan, Too: NARAL Pro-Choice America has plans to be a major player in the 2004 election with an aggressive advocacy strategy backed by a multi-million dollar kitty. With all nine Democratic presidential hopefuls supporting abortion rights, Roll Call reports NARAL's campaign will be complete with issue ads, polling and phone banks in 15 states.

This week, NARAL hired Michael Meehan, Senate Minority Leader Daschle's adviser, to direct the huge soft-money operation's strategy to expand its influence in the presidential race and major Senate races. NARAL president Kate Michelman told Roll Call, "We intend to be on the ground and on the air in all of these states."

Michelman also said NARAL is operating at "an accelerated level in terms of fundraising." In the 2002 election cycle, NARAL spent between $3 and $4 million, but this year's plans budget as high as $10 million according to CBS News sources.

NARAL is not the only group making aggressive plans for the 2004 election. A number of other issue groups have emerged since last year's Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act with more freedom to engage in political advocacy. Former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta will direct a part-think tank/mostly political rapid-response communications effort for the Democrats; while the South Dakota-based Rushmore Policy Council has plans to "destroy" Tom Daschle's career with a series of cartoon ads.

If He Can't Make It There...: A new poll out on Wednesday showed that only 32 percent of New Yorkers approve of the job Mayor Michael Bloomberg is doing running the city. That's lower than Bloomberg's predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, ever received; Giuliani hit bottom at 37 percent in April 2000, just after the high-profile police shooting of an unarmed man.

The poll, conducted by Quinnipiac College and reported by the AP and Reuters, was done April 29-May 5. It found that 56 percent of New Yorkers disapproved of Bloomberg's job performance, although 89 percent view him as intelligent and 75 percent say he's working hard. But New Yorkers view him as out of touch; two-thirds say he doesn't understand the day-to-day concerns of average people.

New York City is going through a budget crisis and 92 percent say they consider the budget problems serious or very serious. Bloomberg has hiked bus and subway fares, zoo admissions, as well as income and sales taxes and New Yorkers are not happy about that.

Bloomberg, however, blew off the poll. "I'm not here to run for the polls," he said. I'm trying to bring crime down and balance the budget."

Tax Cut Time: Economic stimulus is the issue that's front and center in Congress for the near future, as the House votes on a $550 billion tax cut plan tomorrow and the Senate Finance Committee today wrangles over a totally different $350 billion proposal.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, spent the week fine-tuning his plan and came to an agreement on a $350 billion package that now has the support of GOP moderates such as Sens. Olympia Snowe and George Voinovich. Instead of including a permanent elimination of dividend taxes – the centerpiece of President Bush's $726 billion plan - this proposal would exempt $500 of dividend income over the 10-year period of the bill. The other sticking point with moderates – aid to states – was also addressed, with the bill providing roughly $20 billion to the states.

"The agreement we reached is consistent with the principles Senator Voinovich and I established at the outset," Snowe said.

Meantime, Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., fresh off his presidential campaign kickoff, this morning unveiled his own plan that only focuses on the next two years, as opposed to the 10-year plans offered by the others.

The problem with the proposed 10-year plans, Graham complains, is it shows "it's not important enough … for us to pay for it but for our children and grandchildren to pick up our credit card." He added, "We ought to pay now for whatever benefits we want to get now."

His $255 billion idea would be in the form of a payroll tax holiday equal to 7.65 percent of the first $10,000 of income – or $765 per taxpayer. He would also include $40 billion in state aid.

The House tomorrow is expected to vote on its tax cut bill that also doesn't eliminate the dividend tax but lowers tax rates on capital gains and dividends to 5 and 15 percent from 10 and 20 percent.

House Democrats yesterday offered a $177 billion alternative they plan to introduce tomorrow. Their plan would increase the child tax credit and lower the marriage penalty for lower-income taxpayers. It also provides $44 billion in aid to states.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the plan would be paid for by freezing top income tax rates and eliminating corporate tax shelters. "Our plan adds one million new jobs without adding a penny to the deficit," she said.

Quote of the Day: Sen. Joe Lieberman's Top Ten List from Wednesday's "Late Show with David Letterman." (CBS)

Top Ten Reasons, I, Joe Lieberman, Would Make A Great President

10. "Not only will my vice president be in an undisclosed location, I won't even reveal who he is"
9. "I know Microsoft Excel and can type 65 words a minute"
8. "I've gotten a lot of good advice from Martin Sheen"
7. "Instead of taking Air Force One, I can use all of my accumulated frequent flier miles"
6. "Saddam's a president and I'm way less nuts than he is"
5. "I will change the Constitution to guarantee every American a free DVD player"
4. "I am very comfortable in oval-shaped rooms"
3. "It just so happens Spider-Man is a close, personal friend of mine"
2. "I won't take any crap from France"
1. "Look at me. Do you honestly think there'll be a sex scandal?"

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