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Washington Wrap

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

Recall Roundup: There's bad news on the polling and signature front for embattled California Gov. Gray Davis, who's facing an effort by political opponents to gather enough signatures to trigger a special recall election.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that almost half of California voters want Davis removed from office in a prospective recall election. The statewide poll, conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California, showed 48 percent of Californians would vote to remove him, while 41 percent said they'd continue to support him. Among likely voters, Davis' numbers are just as bad, with 51 percent saying they'd vote against him and 43 percent backing him.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that recall organizers are claiming they have 600,000 to 700,000 signatures – quickly approaching the 900,000 needed to trigger a recall vote. The organizers must gather the signatures by Sept. 2 to trigger the special election, which could take place as early as this fall or as late as March 2004, depending on when (and if) the recall signatures are submitted.

Undoubtedly, part of the recall effort's growing success can be attributed to the influx of cash from Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, who has chipped in $645,000 of the $1 million that "Rescue California" has raised. (Recall opponents, organized under the name "Taxpayers Against the Governor's Recall," have raised $759,000, the Chronicle reports.)

But The New York Times reports California Democrats are alleging that Issa violated federal campaign finance laws by soliciting – and giving – soft money to the recall effort, despite a ban on federal officeholders' raising soft money. In a complaint filed with the Federal Elections Commission, Lance Olson – a Sacramento lawyer and counsel to the California Democratic Party – says that Issa solicited soft money contributions from companies, including his own, for the recall effort.

The Times says a provision of the new campaign finance law allows federal officeholders to raise soft money only if they plan to run for state office. And while Issa says he plans to run for governor, Olson claims in his complaint that the soft money was being solicited for the recall, not a gubernatorial campaign.

Olson's complaint alleges that Issa improperly transferred $445,000 from Greene Properties – of which Issa is CEO – and that he sought, and received, another $60,000 from supporters.

Issa has hired Ben Ginsberg, an attorney who specializes in campaign finance law, to defend him against Olson's claim, which was filed late last month. Ginsberg called the FEC complaint a "tawdry and heavy-handed attempt to squelch opposition by twisting and turning the new law."

"I don't think this goes much beyond the politics of Gray Davis' being worried and trying to stop anyone opposed to them," Ginsberg said.

The Straw That Made Milwaukee Famous: Four Democratic presidential candidates (John Kerry, Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton) and the daughter of another (Bob Graham's daughter, Gwen Graham Logan) will speak at the Wisconsin state convention in Milwaukee on Friday night.

On Saturday, Elizabeth Edwards (wife of Sen. John Edwards) and a "Lieberman person" will address the 1,000-plus delegates and special guests. Two other candidates are skipping the event entirely: Rep. Dick Gephardt, who will be in New Hampshire and Missouri, and Carol Moseley Braun, who will be addressing the National Women's Political Caucus in D.C.

Wisconsin, one of the first states to hold a meaningful primary (remember JFK and HHH in 1960, Carter and Udall in '76, Mondale and Cranston in '84), has again emerged as a center of early campaigning with its 2004 contest scheduled for Feb. 17. But an unauthorized straw poll organized by those mischievous folks at Hotline and WisPolitics.com has generated some activity even earlier than expected.

DNC Chair Terry McAuliffe sent out a letter to Wisconsin Democrats urging them to ignore the straw poll, but a state party official tells CBS News that there's nothing they can do about it if delegates want to vote.

Despite McAuliffe's stern warning against straw polls, WisPolitics.com reports that at least two of the candidates – Dean and Kerry – have been urging supporters to show up and cast their votes at the convention. Results will be announced at noon CDT on Saturday.

Gearing Up For A Brawl: With speculation running rampant that there will be a Supreme Court retirement in the near future, the Senate is working to clear its schedule to allow time for an expected bitter fight over the potential nominee, reports the Wall Street Journal.

One of the reasons Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., is pushing to get the Medicare prescription drug bill done by the July 4th break is because there's a chance either Chief Justice William Rehnquist or Justice Sandra Day O'Connor may retire.

"Are they putting Medicare prescription drugs on the fast track for a number of reasons? You bet. Are they concerned that having a Supreme Court resignation would crowd everything out and take away from the triumph of a prescription drug factory? You bet," American Enterprise Institute scholar Norm Ornstein told the Journal.

There are other indications the Senate is gearing up for a potential high court vacancy. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, tried to force a vote on the country's asbestos litigation crisis. Democrats felt there hadn't been sufficient discussion on it and held off. Hatch's chief counsel, Makan Delrahim said, "Sen. Hatch has talked about the short time window to get asbestos legislation passed if there is a Supreme Court nominee."

On Tuesday, Judiciary Committee member Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., sent the White House a list of five "possible nominees capable of gaining bipartisan support in the Senate," which includes his colleague, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.

The suggestions stemmed from "talk of a possible Supreme Court vacancy in the next few weeks," a statement from Schumer's office said.

Also recently, Senate Republicans have been working to change the Senate's filibuster rules, making it more difficult for Democrats to hold up votes on judicial nominees. This idea emerged after Democrats used multiple filibusters to hold up two Bush lower-court nominees.

But the fear that the Dems may filibuster a controversial Supreme Court nominee looms. "A filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee would bring the confirmation process to an abysmal new low," Bradford Berenson, former associate White House counsel to President Bush told the Journal.

The other lingering issue of a potential vacancy is how upcoming political campaigns will be funded. The Supreme Court has agreed to expedite the case of the new campaign finance laws enacted last year, convening in September to hear arguments. This fact leads to speculation that Rehnquist won't be retiring, and that would please those who helped craft the law since, according to Ornstein, it was "designed to try to fit within the framework that Rehnquist embraced."

Elevator Caucus: On the way to a vote Wednesday, 14 members of the House got to know each other a little better, as they were stuck in an elevator for 40 minutes, reports the New York Daily News.

"We threatened to start killing the Republicans one by one unless they got us out," cracked Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y.

The bipartisan entrapment took place in the Rayburn House Office Building as the 14 were heading to the Capitol to vote. Presidential candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, took charge and talked party leaders into delaying the vote until they were freed, relieving Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Mich, who holds the record for the longest unbroken streak of votes.

Ackerman wasn't worried about a consecutive vote streak, but being able to attend his daughter's wedding this weekend. "I just wanted to be out by Saturday night for the wedding," he joked.

Quote of the Day: "A wicked bad case of a fake tummy ache." – Comedian Adam Sandler on why Sen. John Kerry was unable to speak at Manchester's Central High School graduation on Wednesday night. Sandler, a 1984 Central grad, filled in for Kerry, who could not make it after the ceremony's date was changed. (Manchester Union-Leader.)