Washington Wrap

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AP
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.

Insiders March To The Dean Drummer: This week's Democratic Insiders poll in the National Journal shows Howard Dean picking up steam again. Dean, who went down last week to a mere 36 out of 50 first-place votes as the most likely nominee, is now pulling 39. As one voter wrote, "SEIU-AFSCME, and the sky's-the-limit funding, all in one week. What's he gonna do to top that next week?"

Second place went again to Dick Gephardt, though he fell from 11 to 8 top nods. Two Insiders continue to pick John Edwards, while Wesley Clark holds on to his one.

When it rains it pours for John Kerry. Not only does he continue to get blanked as the likely nominee, but this week the Insiders also voted him the candidate performing "most-below-expectations" by a wide margin. Twenty-nine of the 50 dissed the Massachusetts senator, with one insider saying, "He's managed to combine the duplicity of the Gore campaign with the arrogance of the Dukakis campaign." Joe Lieberman also received 9 votes in the low expectations category. Clark and Edwards each got four votes, while Carol Moseley Braun and Richard Gephardt got one vote apiece.

In their more complex 1-9 rating scale, the National Journal notes that John Edwards is the "only candidate who has gained points every week."

This poll may not have great predictive powers but it's a pretty accurate reflection of Democratic conventional wisdom. And, maybe most significantly, it is a good window into understanding why it's so hard it is for everybody but Dean to raise money these days.

Clark Will Take Matching Funds: After flirting with the idea of forgoing public funding, the Clark campaign announced Thursday that it would opt in, take the matching money and abide by the spending limits that it entails. CBS News' Bonney Kapp reports that after filing for candidacy in the state of New Hampshire this morning, Clark told reporters he received word Thursday night from campaign chair Eli Segal that his campaign decided not to opt out of the system "It's a pragmatic decision at this point. I guess if lightning struck, maybe I'd have to reconsider."

The decision means that Clark will be eligible for up to $19 million in public matching funds. Although Clark had floated the rejection of funds, he explained the decision saying, "I started the campaign late, we're raising money at an unprecedented rate, but one has to be realistic about it." Asked whether he disagreed with Howard Dean's recent decision to forgo public funding, Clark said while he supports public financing of elections he wouldn't blame other Democratic candidates. "Blame for undercutting public financing rests with the nation's chief law enforcement officer, the President of the United States."

The Clark campaign is says it hopes to raise $6 million this quarter.

Clark also responded to criticism from former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hugh Shelton. In September, Shelton said that Clark had been removed from his post for "integrity and character issues." Clark told his audience at a dinner for Merrimack County Democrats that he and Shelton "had a very significant policy disagreement … In his view, what happened in the Balkans wasn't really in America's national interests."

During the genocide in Rwanda in the early 1990s, Clark said, he had not spoken up because "I was an Army officer; I did what they told me to." When it came to Kosovo, however, Clark says he couldn't "live with my conscience if I let it happen again."

According to Clark, differing viewpoints between Washington and the military are not uncommon. "The only difference in this case is it came out in the public. It shouldn't have, and on behalf of all of us in the General Officer Corps, I apologize."

Kerry Staff In Disarray, Day Five: Just as things have started to calm down, Sen. John Kerry veered away from his talking points and told the AP that his campaign would "be better off moving ahead with people who want to be there." He went on, "When you change one person, it is not at all unusual that a couple of people that person hired, that I barely know, are not really involved with me, decide to go."

Robert Gibbs, Kerry's very professional former press secretary, stuck to the talking points and seized the highroad, saying, "I enjoyed working for Senator Kerry and wish him the best. I believe he will make a great president of the United States."

Gibbs told CBS News that he's having a busy week moving his family to a new house and dealing with a fresh paint job. Former Kerry campaign manager Jim Jordan sent an e-mail on Friday to an A-List of 144 political reporters and operatives (including some working for Dick Gephardt and John Edwards) telling them where he can now be reached.

Kerry must have found him. The AP reported that several hours after the story appeared that Kerry called the three former aides to apologize for saying his campaign would be "better off" without them.

Lieberman's New Ad: Joe Lieberman is rolling out a new ad in New Hampshire, reports CBS News' Tali Aronsky, traveling with the Lieberman campaign.

The ad, another in the "On the Road with Joe" series, features the candidate in a diner schmoozing with locals. It emphasizes Lieberman's desire to focus the race on bread and butter issues, like health care and the economy, while also taking some shots at front-runner Howard Dean, without mentioning his name.

"I don't think it's right to have raised a divisive symbol like the Confederate flag. Or to give up on principles like limiting the amount of money in campaigns, as John McCain and I have fought for," Lieberman says in the spot.

He goes on to say that he wants "to focus this campaign on expanded access to health care, tax cuts for 98 percent of taxpayers, and deficit reduction to protect Social Security. That would be a fresh start."

The ad was scheduled to begin running Friday in New Hampshire and bordering Vermont towns.

Young At Heart: On Thursday in Washington, 81-year-old Norman Lear and a slew of his friends launched a $9 million youth voter initiative called "Declare Yourself" that aims to encourage Americans aged 18 to 29 to register and then to vote. Beginning with a "spoken word" dramatic performance and ending with an appearance by Drew Barrymore, Declare Yourself drew applause from an audience in the auditorium at George Washington University. The event/show was tightly scripted - even a "spontaneous" audience question to Lear was in the teleprompter's hard drive.

Declare Yourself aims to raise youth voter registration by at least 2 percent. The voter initiative will operate in three phases: spoken word rallies at 18 college campuses, a summer concert series and a 50-day get-out-the-vote drive starting September 15. Declare Yourself will also be targeting high school students, using a 20-minute video featuring Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn called "Let's Go Voting," which the creators of "South Park" helped produce. Declare Yourself will also partner with Yahoo! to provide links and banner advertisements that will direct surfers to www.DeclareYourself.com, which serves as one-stop-shopping for election information and voter registration. As Lear told the crowd, "there's all kinds of electric energy here."

While it would be easy to write the project off as a naïve, re-baked version of many other failed attempts to get young people involved in politics, Declare Yourself is part of a $35 million project funded by Lear's foundation, corporations (including Home Depot and Axa Financial) and personal contributions. Lear bought one of the 27 original copies of the Declaration of Independence a few years ago at Sotheby's and has been sending it around the country to try to get people engaged in voting.

The youth strategy is based on a representative survey of 1,006 people aged 16-29 by the firm Princeton Survey Research Associates International. The survey's findings, in particular about the importance of early registration and feelings of "political incompetence" among young voters, informed the voter campaign's plan. Full survey results are available on Declare Yourself's website.

Oops.com: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's official website has increased in popularity overnight as it has been linked to by liberal and conservative websites, reports Reuters. The cause of such interest is an online poll that poses the question, "Should the president's nominees to the federal bench be allowed an up or down vote on confirmation as specified in the Constitution?"

Normally, Frist's online polls generate little interest. The previous poll regarding veterans drew only 35 votes. But after the new poll question was spotted by a liberal weblogger known as Atrios and linked to his website, 9,000 people had responded within hours. The result was 60 percent voting "No."

In retaliation, a conservative web forum known as FreeRepublic.com linked to Frist's online poll pleading, "The poll needs our help." As the poll closed on Wednesday night, 106,615 votes were cast: 54 percent voted "Yes," and 46 percent voted "No."

With the Senate locked in a marathon filibuster over the judicial nominees, Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada seized on the initial results of Frist's poll. He said, "Even the majority leader's Web site indicates that what is going on here is absolutely wrong."

Frist's spokesman, Bob Stevenson, said of the website's polls, "They are up there to allow people to give their honest feedback. Wherever the chips may fall, that's fine. However, after going through last night's experience, we've recommitted ourselves to the 'Do not spam' law," referring to efforts to ban automated Internet junk mail.

Quote of the Day: "I heard Kerry's going to JJ as Al Gore" and "First of all let's talk dress code. Just a note to Kerry staff, those navy blazers are going to restrict movement." - From Dean Iowa campaign press release parodying a Washington consultants' conference call about Saturday night's big Iowa Democratic dinner.