Washington Wrap

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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.

Better Than Nothing: While Howard Dean was picking up double-barreled labor endorsements, his rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Wesley Clark, got the nod from popular former Gov. Jim Hodges of South Carolina.

Clark, who had lunch with Hodges last week in Columbia, S.C., has been active in South Carolina since his campaign began in September, and even more so since he decided in October not to compete in the Iowa caucuses. The State's Lee Bandy reports that Hodges, whose endorsement had been coveted by all nine Democratic campaigns, was previously leaning toward Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Hodges is highly popular with black voters, who are expected to make up at least half of the electorate in the Feb. 3, 2004, first-in-the-South primary.

This is the second piece of good news for Clark in the Palmetto State. Last week, a new poll by American Research Group showed him leading the Democratic pack with 17 percent, followed by John Edwards at 10 percent.

On Thursday, Clark spoke at South Carolina State University, where he said that military operations in Iraq should be turned over to a U.S.-commanded NATO force. Clark also said Paul Bremer should be replaced by a non-American in charge of Iraq. Clark says his proposals would help stabilize Iraq and make the mission an international one. Clark, who was once Supreme Commander of NATO, said he'd model post-war Iraq peacekeeping and administration after the successful international model used in the Balkans in the 1990s.

Southern Strategy: This weekend President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney embark on campaign fundraising trips to the South. The president will hold a $1 million campaign fundraiser in Winston-Salem, N.C., on Friday. Following that he will make remarks on job training and the economy in an attempt to bolster support in North Carolina, a state suffering from layoffs in the textile, apparel, furniture, and tobacco industries.

Meanwhile, the vice president is visiting Texas to energize and tap into the President's support base. Cheney will speak today at two Bush-Cheney fundraisers, the first a luncheon at the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin, followed by one at the St. Regis Hotel in Houston.

The campaign's attention to the South continues next week when President Bush visits Florida for the 17th time since his inauguration, reports the Orlando Sentinel. Mr. Bush will attend a $1 million campaign fund-raising luncheon at Lake Buena Vista to add to the $6 million he has already raised in the state with the help of his younger brother, Gov. Jeb Bush.

The Bush-Cheney Campaign has thus far raised a total of $85.1 million.

More Trouble For Bill Janklow: A poll conducted Oct. 31 through Nov. 2 for CBS affiliate KELO-TV and the Argus Leader shows Democrat Stephanie Herseth trouncing incumbent Republican Rep. Bill Janklow, D-S.D., 57 percent to 29 percent. In 2002, Janklow defeated Herseth 53 percent to 46 percent, but since he has been charged with felony manslaughter for a fatal traffic accident and his poll ratings have taken a nosedive.

The poll also showed Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle opening up a small lead of 50 percent to 44 percent over former Rep. John Thune. That's a bit better for Daschle than the 48 percent-46 percent in the same poll three months ago. Thune hasn't officially announced for Senate and there is speculation that he might run for the House instead. The poll shows that in a match-up against Herseth, Thune leads 47 percent to Herseth's 40 percent.

Daschle has been on the air in South Dakota for several months running ads about ethanol and health care and his campaign has been canvassing voters around the state. Thune's former political director, Ryan Nelson, dismisses the new poll, telling the Argus Leader that after "nearly $3 million spent (by Daschle) he can't break away." Nelson acknowledged, however, that Thune, who is running a political consulting firm in South Dakota, would make a formidable House candidate.

"But John is still deciding on his future," Nelson said. "He expects to make up his mind in the next couple of months."

Senate On My Mind: Republican Rep. Katherine Harris, a woman whose name instantly brings back memories from the 2000 election, said she is "seriously" considering running for Florida's open Senate seat next year, according to the Sun-Sentinel. As you may remember, Harris, Florida's Secretary of State during the tumultuous 2000 presidential election, is credited with helping end the recount, thus securing a victory for Bush.

Because of her high profile involvement in 2000, Harris has instant name recognition, something that could both help and hurt her if she decides to run. "In a general election, she'll be a polarizing figure," said Dario Moreno, a political scientist at Florida International University. "Whether you love her or hate her, she became the symbol for the 2000 election debacle … In a way, I think the Democrats would almost love to run against her."

An heiress to the fortune of the late Florida citrus baron Ben Hill Griffin Jr., Harris said for months that she was not even consider challenging Sen. Graham, because of the close relationship the two farming families share. But now that Graham's out, she says her phone has been ringing off the hook with people encouraging her to run. As for when she will decide, "Everybody keeps telling me I need to seriously consider it," Harris said. "My husband and I, we haven't really sat down seriously and talked about it. We have to spend some time talking about where this fits in our life. … This is brand new."

Former CBS News correspondent Eric Engberg, now a constituent of Harris' in Palmetto, reports she recently told the local press that her trip to Iraq showed her that the media has overstated the dangers of enemy guerilla activity. Rather, she said, "many good things" are happening including water, electricity, and schools services.

She then told of being caught in a traffic jam in downtown Baghdad for half an hour, which she said made her nervous. "We were sitting ducks," she noted.

Electability Rears Its Ugly Head: In the third week of National Journal's Democratic Insiders Poll, there is not a lot of change in the numbers on who is the most likely to win the nomination: Howard Dean still has a big lead but loses two first place votes (36 from 38) while Rep. Richard Gephardt picks up two (to 11 from 9). The other candidates stay essentially the same, gaining or losing a few points but not changing in the voters' first place estimation.

The big story this week is the Insiders' secondary question: who would be the Democratic Party's strongest nominee? On that score, Dean is much less compelling.

When Insiders pick the strongest candidate to match up with President Bush, Gephardt leads with 16 votes or 38 percent (only 42 Insiders answered the question, 8 demurred). Wesley Clark gets nine votes and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., gets five. Dean ties with Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C. and Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Ct., at just four votes apiece.

Why the big difference between voting tallies? As one Insider explained about Dean, "The qualities that make him the front-runner in the primary – unequivocal opposition to the war and anger at the status quo – would be his downfall in a general election." Besides, as another Insider writes of Gephardt, "Working-class white guys do not dislike Gephardt the way they would inevitably dislike Dean, regardless of how much he talks about the NRA."

This perception is a nagging problem for Dean, at least among the elites. The union endorsements should help him here—but it will probably take real voters to make the case that he is not just a Birkenstock and granola kind of guy.

Quote of the Day: "Hate her! ... The only thing she's going to be remembered for is standing by her man, and that is really sad." -- Susan Sarandon, on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the latest Index magazine (New York Daily News, via Wake-Up Call!)