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Dotty Lynch, Douglas Kiker, Beth Lester, Clothilde Ewing and Sean Sharifi of the CBS News Political Unit have the latest from the nation's capital.



Nine More Shopping Days For Iowa 527s: With the Supreme Court upholding the ban on "issue ads" by groups within 30 days of a primary, organizations wishing to get involved in the Iowa caucuses have only nine more days to blast away. So far, the conservative Club for Growth and the Democratic-backed Americans for Jobs, Healthcare and Progressive Values have been airing anti-Dean ads in Iowa. The latter group has refused to divulge its donors (it doesn't have to until next February), but two officials, Tim Raftis and David Jones, have ties to Tom Harkin and Dick Gephardt, respectively.

The Gephardt campaign claims it doesn't know who backed the ad, which attacks Dean for his high ratings from the National Rifle Association. "Look, Joe Trippi used to work for Dick Gephardt. I don't hear Howard Dean complaining about that," said Gephardt spokesman Erik Smith.

Gephardt Wins Clyburn Primary: He might not be Al Gore, but James Clyburn, arguably the most powerful Democrat in South Carolina and the target of much wooing from all nine Democratic presidential hopefuls, intends to endorse Rep. Dick Gephardt.

CBS News has learned that Clyburn, the pre-eminent African American political leader in a state where blacks could make up half of the electorate in the Feb. 3 primary, could announce his endorsement as early as Wednesday.

Clyburn, the vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told the Columbia State newspaper on Tuesday that he intended to endorse the veteran Missouri congressman. "I won't be coy about that," Clyburn said when asked about his plans.

A measure of Clyburn's influence is how the candidates flocked to the fish fry he hosted on the eve of the South Carolina Democratic debate last spring in Columbia. Most of the candidates who've spent time in South Carolina have either invited Clyburn to campaign with them or have praised him effusively.

Newsday reports that Howard Dean's comments about the Confederate flag earlier this fall angered Clyburn. "That gives me heartburn, and that's what I told him," Clyburn said of Dean's comments. "You can't un-ring a bell. That's going to dog him here and everywhere."

In other Palmetto State news, there will be a presidential candidate forum on Jan. 31 in Columbia. The forum, organized by the Center for Community Change, will take place four days before the primary and will be hosted by syndicated radio host Tom Joyner. It will focus on "under-represented voters" like blacks, Latinos and young and rural voters, the center's executive director, Leila McDowell, tells The State.

The Jan. 31 event comes right on the heels of a Jan. 29 debate in Greenville that is sponsored by the state party. Democratic Party chairman Joe Erwin tells the State that eight of the nine candidates have said they'll participate in Greenville. He would not say which one had not confirmed.

Breaux Could Go Either Way: Sen. John Breaux, D-La., is keeping people guessing about whether he will end his 32-year political career, as a self-imposed Dec. 15 deadline draws near. According to The Hill, Breaux's friends and advisers are split, with some saying he is still mulling over whether to retire at the end of this term for a lobbying, consulting or university job; while others believe he is already made a decision but has only informed his family.

One theory among Republicans is that Breaux will in fact step down, and that he'll do it early, so Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco can appoint his successor. The Hill reports that Breaux has said he will not do this. In a rare show of solidarity, many Louisiana Democrats also believe he will retire. Over the past 12 years, one of Breaux's pet issues was Medicare reform. And, as one of two Democrats who helped to craft the new legislation, he can leave the Senate on a high.

If Breaux decides to retire, he would be the fifth Southern Democratic senator to announce a decision not to seek reelection in 2004. South Carolina's Fritz Hollings, Georgia's Zell Miller, North Carolina's John Edwards and Florida's Bob Graham all have taken a pass.

Elsewhere on the retirement beat, Housing Secretary Mel Martinez has announced that he will leave the Bush Cabinet on Friday. CBS News confirmed last week that Martinez would get into the Florida Senate race to replace Democrat Bob Graham.

Florida officials say Martinez will start to raise money for the Aug. 31 primary soon and that he will make an announcement in January, according to the Washington Post.

Despite not officially being in the race, Katherine Harris currently leads the GOP field. The AP reports that the latest poll, taken between Dec. 1 and Dec. 3 by Schroth & Associates and the Polling Company, showed Harris leading a prospective GOP field with 29 percent. She was followed by former Rep. Bill McCollum with 15 percent and Martinez at 11 percent.

The poll, however, was taken before the news that Martinez was stepping down from HUD. For her part, Harris continues consulting with advisers on whether or not to enter the race. Some Republicans fear Harris will be a polarizing figure if she runs because of her role in the 2000 recount. Martinez, former chief executive of Orlando and its metro area, reportedly has been urged to run by the White House.

Never Say Die: Political Activist Bob Kunst says he plans to run 60 television commercials in three New Hampshire cities this week urging Democrats to write-in Sen. Hillary Clinton's name on their primary ballots, reports the New York Sun. The 30-second ads began running Tuesday, coinciding with the Democratic debate in Durham, N.H. They will run for three days on cable stations in Concord, Manchester and Portsmouth.

Trying to mobilize Clinton supporters, the low-budget ad warns, "America's in danger. They've taken our votes. They've taken our jobs. They've taken our liberties. We can't take another four years of George W. Bush." The ad calls for the drafting of Clinton because "she is the strongest Democrat who can defeat Bush." It concludes with the phrase, "Live free or die." The ad is being paid for by Hillary Now, a group started by Kunst

When asked why he wanted the New York senator on the ballot, Kunst responded, "She's a lightning rod. I think we'll get more people out to vote by getting everyone at each other's throat. We'll get 80 percent turnout," the Sun reports.

Clinton has repeatedly said that she has no intention of running in the 2004 election and wants to complete her term in the Senate. But her actions may indicate otherwise, with a Thanksgiving trip to Iraq, recent appearances on three Sunday morning news programs and the hosting of a fund-raising dinner in Iowa.

And in other news from Hillaryland, it appears yet another FOH is helping out an actual presidential candidate, Wesley Clark. Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, the TV producer who made "The Man from Hope" for Bill Clinton, has created a DVD bio of Clark. According to US News & World Report, the Clark campaign is "going for the heartstrings to revive the Democrat's slumping efforts." According to Washington Whispers, the Bloodworth-Thomason effort is a real "tear-jerker."

Bloodworth-Thomason will be on one of three conference calls the Clark campaign is doing today with reporters to talk about the video.

Quote of the Day: "Sportscaster." -- Sen. John Edwards' answer to which field he'd like to be in if he wasn't in politics. (Wall Street Journal)

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