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Washington Wrap

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.

Burning Up The Phone Lines: The New York Times reports that as soon as word of Al Gore's endorsement of Howard Dean leaked out, Wesley Clark quickly called former President Clinton "just to call and say 'hello.'"

Clark told the Times, "I called him the other night after the Gore endorsement, more or less just to call and say, 'Hello. You still there?' He said, 'What do you say about it?' I said, 'I don't pay any attention to endorsements unless they're for me.' He said, 'That's exactly right.'"

In Tuesday's debate, Clark, who said earlier this year that Mr. Clinton had encouraged him to run and whose campaign staff is loaded with Clinton vets, was asked if he would welcome an endorsement by the former president. "I really have never even thought about that," Clark said.

On Monday, Mr. Clinton said he wouldn't endorse any Democratic candidates until after the primary season.

Mr. Clinton, who was in San Francisco on Monday and Winnipeg on Tuesday, has been busy on the phones the last couple of days. The Cedar Rapids Gazette reports that on Tuesday, while Dean and Gore campaigned in Iowa, a Dean supporter "received a jolt" when Dean handed him a cell phone and said, "Say hello to Bill Clinton." The supporter, Dick Slater, said "It was a major surprise." Slater added that "there was no real content" in the conversation, noting that Mr. Clinton said "nothing that could be interpreted as an endorsement of Dean."

The Dean campaign "had no word on what Clinton and Dean were talking about," calling it "a private conversation."

Over the weekend, Clark travels to the Netherlands to testify in a closed session at the U.N. war crimes trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Clark, who commanded NATO during the war that ended with Milosevic's removal from power, is expected to testify through Tuesday.

Monday also marks the deadline for Clark to file his financial disclosure documents with the FEC. Between leaving the military in 2000 and entering the race in September, Clark, who asked for a 45-day extension to file the papers, worked as a consultant (including for several defense contractors), worked for CNN as a military analyst and hit the speaking circuit. His financial disclosure forms – the first real look at the general's finances – will be scrutinized by the media and the other presidential campaigns.

Who's Up Next? Now that they've survived the Supreme Court, the sponsors of McCain-Feingold are targeting the agency they blame for creating "soft money" in the first place: the Federal Election Commission.

In its ruling earlier this week, the court agreed with the law's sponsors saying the commission had allowed the flood of special-interest money into politics, which made the new law necessary. Right now, the commission consists of three Democrats and three Republicans, but critics maintain that the members are more interested in protecting the political interests of insiders than in enforcing campaign finance rules and that they typically deadlock along party lines.

Instead of the FEC, Sens. McCain and Feingold and Reps. Shays and Meehan propose a three-member panel made up of a chairman and two other members, who would appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The two members would have to come from different parties, and no appointee could have any ties to the FEC or have worked for either party or any political candidate.

Meanwhile, Republicans are itching for their own fight about how campaign money is raised. While the RNC and Republican candidates have raised far more than their Democratic counterparts, the Democrats have raised millions through fund-raising organizations independent of the party. In fact, the Democrats have done so well that Republicans are asking the FEC to intervene, the New York Times reports.

According to the Times, a Republican group, Americans for a Better Country, has asked the commission to issue a legal advisory explaining what these groups, called 527s, can do under the new law, because as GOP lawyer George Terwilliger believes, "It's clear that these kind of groups are in a position to do things that the parties used to be able to do."

They Want to Keep You Close By: If you're a Democratic National Convention delegate and you're from a swing state, chances are you'll have the most convenient hotels.

The Boston Herald reports that swing state delegates to the July convention in Boston will be staying in the hotels closest to the the Fleet Center, where the event is taking place, while delegates from Texas, President Bush's home state, will be housed at Logan Airport Hilton, a few miles and a tunnel away.

Convention spokeswoman Lina Garcia explains away the Texas lodging woes as a logistical issue, not a snub. "That was one of the places we could give them that would meet their needs," Garcia said, admitting the airport Hilton wasn't on the Texas wish list, but adding that Texas' 232-member delegation could only fit in certain hotels. "It has lots of amenities," she said.

Swing states Pennsylvania and New Jersey will be within walking distance of the convention site, at the Omni Parker House hotel; while Michigan and Ohio will be staying at the convention headquarters hotel, the Sheraton Boston.

Interestingly, Montana requested the cheapest rooms in Boston, so they'll be staying in dorms at Northeastern University.

In other Massachusetts news, Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., will make a campaign appearance on behalf of Sen. John Kerry, though Kerry will actually be miles away in Iowa.

As Kerry campaigns on Saturday, Kennedy will head to Portsmouth, N.H., to address a health care rally organized by Kerry. Kennedy campaigned in Iowa for Kerry in September and in November his former chief of staff Mary Beth Cahill and former spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter joined the Kerry campaign.

Only Four Insiders Hold Out on Dean: In this week's National Journal Insiders Poll, the top of the field has solidified around Howard Dean, who now has 46 out of 50 first-place votes, up from 40 last week. The Gore endorsement seems to have had a major impact among Insiders, with one writing, "People inside the establishment who have wanted to support Howard Dean … now have political cover." On the more complicated one to nine ranking scale, Dean scores 446 points out of a total possible 450, translating to a commanding lead.

The other big winner in this week's Insiders Poll is John Edwards. For the first time since the poll began, Edwards moves into fourth place behind Gephardt and Clark, but above John Kerry. Edwards also claims two first-place votes (he has two supporters in the group of 50: N.C. Rep David Price and his New Hampshire state director Caroline McCarley; our guess is that they are hanging tough) and moves up in total points again, still the only candidate to do so each week.

As Edwards keeps moving up, one Insider wrote that he should "mortgage the farm for a third-place finish in Iowa – that would be a big story."

If it was a good week for Dean and Edwards, the bad news is for Gephardt and Kerry. Gephardt lost all five of his first-place nods (to Dean), with one Insider writing, "Better be building his Iowa foundation brick by brick if he is to survive Hurricane Howard." The other bad news is for Kerry, who drops into fifth place. Kerry has slipped from third place for the first five weeks, to fourth in week six, now to fifth behind Dean, Gephardt, Clark and Edwards.

Borrowing from MacArthur, one Insider muses, "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away." Clark stayed in third place, losing one-first place nod (to – who else? – Dean), but gained points overall. Joe Lieberman, Dennis Kucinich, Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley Braun round out the pack in spots six through nine.

It's not over till it's over, but as one Insider wrote, "The fat lady is in rehearsal and showtime appears imminent."

Quote of the Day: "He definitely called many times, and he was told that there was a Lieberman event and the senator wasn't with a staff person, and he couldn't get him on the phone." --Karenna Gore Schiff, on her dad calling Joe Lieberman about the Dean endorsement (New York Daily News)

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