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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.

What's He Hiding?: On his way out of the Vermont statehouse, Howard Dean negotiated an unprecedented ten-year period for keeping some of his official papers confidential. Traditionally, outgoing Vermont governors receive six-year seals for their official papers, but the Boston Globe reports that Dean's camp wished to seal his records for longer in light of a possible return to politics and even considered making the privacy period contingent on whether he ran for president.

Talks between state archivist Gregory Sanford and Dean's counsel centered on the possibility of a political opponent using a government document as ammunition against Dean in a future campaign. Sanford says talks focused on "the 'Willie Horton' example," a reference to commercials about the Massachusetts prisoner which helped ruin Gov. Michael Dukakis' bid for the White House in 1988.

In the end, the two sides reached an agreement that sealed Dean's records for ten years with no extension, for about half of his official correspondents, meaning the records will not be available for public view until 2013. In an interview with Vermont Public Radio shortly before he left office Dean said, "Well, there are future political considerations. We didn't want anything embarrassing appearing in the papers at a critical time in any future endeavor."

Dean denied a request by the Boston Globe last July that he waive the seal. "No, it's sealed for a reason," he said

Last week Judicial Watch, the conservative watchdog group based in Washington called on Dean to open up the documents and said it is considering possible legal action. Campaign spokesman Tricia Enright said that the campaign still had no plans to open the papers and said that other governors, including George W. Bush, had done the same thing.

Bush On The Trail: President Bush and the RNC feted high-dollar donors on Wednesday night in Washington, raising $14 million for the party's coffers. The RNC saved some money by serving hot dogs, pizza and Cracker Jack – a far cry from the usual Washington fare of tenderloin and the like.

The sidewalk-style RNC event – designed to seem "New Yorky" in anticipation of next summer's convention – did not even have tables for the $1,500-a-plate (or slice) guests. With McCain-Feingold limiting the amount of money the parties can raise, overhead at fund-raising events has to be trimmed.

"Pretzels and a cash bar" is what NRSC Chairman George Allen says he'd serve to save more money for politics. Allen told the AP that an event headlined by Vice President Dick Cheney last month cost about $350,000, compared to a similar event in 2002 that cost the NRSC $1 million. The $600,000 difference, he said, is about what the committee spends on a competitive race.

Meanwhile, the whole Bush-Cheney team was out and about raising money on Wednesday, including Laura Bush, who was in New York for a Bush-Cheney funder, and Cheney, who was in South Bend, Ind., to help freshman Rep. Chris Chocola, for whom he also raised money in 2002.

Mr. Bush is in New Hampshire on Thursday, where he speaks to the Manchester Chamber of Commerce and attended a rally at Pease Air Force Base. Later in the day, he does his part for the GOP at a funder in Lexington, Ky. for GOP gubernatorial nominee Ernie Fletcher.

New Hampshire is sure to be a battleground state in 2004. Bush won the state in 2000 by a scant 7,211 votes and the Nashua Telegraph reports that the ailing economy there might make Bush vulnerable next year. Bush insisted Thursday that he wasn't campaigning in New Hampshire, even during a photo-op stop at a Cesario's pizza on his way to Manchester. CBS News' Mark Knoller reports that the president told reporters, "This is not a campaign stop. I'm just hungry."

The Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, reports that the Bush campaign has adopted some of the RNC's newfound frugality, at least when it comes to running television ads. The paper reports that "after considerable internal debate, the Bush-Cheney campaign has decided to sit tight, at least for now, on the roughly $80 million it has raised – and press towards its stated donation goal of $170 million to $200 million while waiting for a Democratic presidential nominee to emerge early next year."

White House/Bush-Cheney political chief Karl Rove dismissed the notion that the campaign would start running ads soon as a result of the president's steadily-sinking approval rating.

"We have discussed an appropriate point (to launch ads), but the idea of doing that now is just totally not true," Rove told the L.A. Times.

Clark's Storm Clouds: The fallout continues in the Wesley Clark campaign a day after his campaign manager quit and after it was revealed that he may have violated campaign finance rules with a couple of recent paid speeches.

Clark spokesman Mark Fabiani said yesterday that the retired general would return payments for speeches he made after he declared his candidacy – speeches where he reportedly bashed other candidates. Campaign finance laws prohibit candidates from getting paid for campaign speeches.

Fabiani said they believe that Clark's pre-scheduled speeches were on the up-and-up but "to avoid any distraction from the real issues that matter to Americans, General Clark has decided to return the payments from these speeches."

There are other distractions that won't be so easy to remedy, however; distractions involving the direction of Clark's campaign itself.

Wednesday, campaign manager Donnie Fowler quit, reportedly because he was upset that campaign handlers were too inside the Beltway and were ignoring the Draft Clark supporters that backed the candidate for months before his announcement.

Interestingly, reports U.S. News and World Report, shortly after Fowler's departure, former John Kerry adviser – and business partner of Fabiani – Chris Lehane showed up to help out the Clark campaign.

Fowler's departure has given the impression that initial cracks in the Clark campaign have turned into chasms. The Draft Clark folks published an "open letter" on its Web site called on the candidate himself to right the ship saying, "By the time you read these words, the bell will be tolling for Wesley Clark's candidacy. … Either he will show he can take charge, or he will be forever branded a tool of insiders, unable to understand the enormity of the task."

"It must be made clear that Clark is not a follower of the old politics and can step forward and staunch the bleeding," the letter continues.

Meantime, the official Clark campaign website set up an "Open Thread" blog to accept comments on the subject, calling Fowler's resignation "just a natural growing pain of any fledgling campaign. Things like this happen in every political campaign as organization is put into place and processes are established."

Most of the 422 postings seemed supportive, though some expressed serious concern. "I also hope that you make it really clear here that the Draft Clark members are going to be a worthy part of this campaign. I volunteered weeks ago, and I have heard nothing - not even a thank-you form letter! - regarding my offer of my time and my efforts. … Let's get some organization going, shall we?" wrote blogger Kenneth Cavness.

Kathleen Gregg's Smiling Again: It's been quite a week for Kathleen Gregg, wife of New Hampshire Republican Sen. Judd Gregg. On Monday night, the Greggs attended the State Dinner at the White House for the president of Kenya. On Tuesday morning, Mrs. Gregg was confronted in her home McLean, Va. Two men tied her up, facedown, on the floor and went through the house, taking her engagement ring, some golf clubs and $50 in cash from her wallet and then forced her at knifepoint to withdraw money from the local bank.

Early Thursday morning the suspects were arrested on the road in Carteret, N.J., when the police spotted the stolen Monte Carlo. Some of Mrs. Gregg's jewelry was found in the car according to the AP. There was no indication that the kidnappers had any idea who Mrs. Gregg was.

But, President Bush certainly did. On Thursday in New Hampshire he gave her a big hug as he arrived at an Air National Guard base in Portsmouth and put his hand on her shoulder as he talked to her alongside Air Force One.

DNC Debate-orama: The field of nine Democratic presidential candidates gathers in Phoenix Thursday night for a debate/town-hall meeting. The 90-minute debate will feature 43 minutes of questions from a moderator and two reporters and followed by about 35 minutes of Q-and-A from 40 undecided registered Democratic voters. The candidates will walk from their debate locations down to a platform to be at eye-level with the "people."

The event will air on CNN at 8 p.m. EDT.

Quote of the Day: "John has been on an upward learning curve. It sounds trite, but it's a matter of him finding his voice. ... The rhetorical habits you pick up in the Senate aren't always an asset out on the campaign trail." -John Kerry's campaign manager, Jim Jordan. (The Washington Post)