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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.


Countdown: With 34 days until Iowa and the holidays fast approaching, the Democratic campaigns are in overdrive and the focus continues to be Howard Dean. Over the weekend, Dean picked up the endorsement of Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, making him the the 21st House member to endorse the former Vermont governor. Speaking of governors, New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey plans ro endorse Dean this week, according to the Newark Star Ledger. Meanwhile, Dean will be in Arizona today to "pick up the endorsement of" former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, according to the Arizona Republic.

On Tuesday, Sens. John Kerry and Joe Lieberman gave major policy speeches which included big digs at Dean. Kerry used a number of Dean's flip-flops in a foreign policy speech in Iowa to explain why he's better prepared to lead the country. "Gov. Dean said that we should not go into Iraq unless the U.N. Security council gave us authorization. That is a fundamental misunderstanding of how a president protects the United States," Kerry explained. "Perhaps it reflects inexperience, but for Howard Dean to permit a veto over when America can or cannot act not only becomes little more than a pretext for doing nothing -- it cedes our security and presidential responsibility to defend America to someone else -- a profound danger for both our national security and global stability," he said.

Meanwhile, Lieberman used a bit of his infamous humor at a foreign policy speech in New Hampshire to try to bring down Dean. "It's been quite a week, hasn't it?" he asked the crowd. "First Howard Dean captured Al Gore's endorsement. Then our armed forces captured Saddam Hussein, bringing joy to the world this holiday season." In prepared remarks, Lieberman mentioned Dean by name 21 times saying, "Dr. Dean has become Dr. No." He said he wants to speak to and for all the people Dean has energized, but that "we need more than one wing to fly."

A One-Issue Stand For The Odd Couple?: The AARP, which was blasted by many Democrats for backing the Republicans' new Medicare law, is backing out of forums on Social Security it had planned to sponsor with the Bush administration, reports the Associated Press. The AARP also plans to pull out of a group advocating an overhaul of Social Security to allow personal stock market investing, something many Democrats allege is code language for privatization.

The first of the three town-hall meetings was slated for Jan. 15 in Minneapolis and was sponsored by AARP, the Social Security Administration and the National Association of Manufacturers. The AP says that after one of its reporters inquired about the meetings, AARP pulled out, saying the events would be too politically charged in the wake of the Medicare brouhaha.

"It was simply easier for us to be doing our own events and not be connected to groups with partisan agendas," said AARP federal affairs director David Certner.

While AARP has defended its decision to back the Medicare reform plan, there was a definite backlash, including symbolic membership car burnings at headquarters, from some of the group's 35 million members.

The Bush administration wants to renew its 2000 campaign pledge to shore up Social Security by allowing individuals to invest in personal retirement accounts. The administration would allow younger workers to invest some of their payroll taxes in the personal accounts. The hitch is that those same younger workers' payroll taxes fund current retirees Social Security benefits.

AARP's backing would have bolstered the administration's assertions that Social Security reform, like Medicare reform, is an urgent national priority. While AARP has tried to educate its members about the pending Social Security fiscal crisis, it supports personal investment accounts only if they are added to the system without diverting money from Social Security's traditional benefits, the AP reports.

Breaux's Out, But Who's In?: Sen. John Breaux's retirement announcement has not only opened up wide speculation about who will run to replace him, but also who may run for any House seats that may open up in Louisiana.

Even though no one has announced intentions to seek Breaux's seat, the two names that come up most often as potential candidates are Democratic Rep. Chris John and Republican Rep. David Vitter. Both said they'd make their decisions public later.

"As for my future, I will formally announce my intentions at a later date," said John, who Breaux has publicly lauded as a possible candidate. "Today we should be focused on Senator Breaux and the celebration of his great career."

As Democrats look to keep alive their streak of never losing a Louisiana Senate race since Reconstruction, other names have been bandied about. State Treasurer John Kennedy, as well as 2003 gubernatorial candidates Attorney General Richard Ieyoub and former Rep. Buddy Leach have all said they are considering jumping into the race, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

State Republican Party chairman Pat Brister said that Vitter "is the only Republican who has been discussing that seat; no one else has come forward." Vitter would begin a Senate run on strong financial ground already having $1.5 million on hand.

If John and Vitter run for Senate, that opens up two House seats, one which may be of interest to Republican Bobby Jindal, who lost a close gubernatorial runoff earlier this month.

The Times-Picayune reports that Rep. Jim McCrery, R-La., is trying to recruit Jindal, who isn't likely to run for Senate, to seek Vitter's House seat. Jindal wouldn't comment but his spokesman said he was considering several options.

Good News For Bachelor Kucinich: Forget NASCAR dads; it's single women who may hold the key to the 2004 election. A group aimed at encouraging unmarried women to vote, launched "Women's Voices. Women Vote" on Tuesday. According to co-director Page Gardner, "Unmarried women have been ignored as voters and they've been on the sidelines of our democracy, but they represent a powerful force for dramatic change."

Using research conducted by Democratic pollsters Stanley Greenberg of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Celinda Lake of Lake Snell Perry and Associates, "Women's Voices. Women Vote" aims to turn a historically underperforming demographic into an important voting bloc for progressive candidates.

The group's plan is based on research that shows unmarried women (never married, divorced, widowed or separated) represent "the largest demographic group that under-registers and under-votes in this country" and have different views and priorities than their married counterparts. According to a press release from the group, there is a "marriage gap" in values that is growing as the number of unmarried people in America increases. This gap is based on findings by Greenberg/Lake which indicate that unmarried women are more progressive, more likely to be liberal, more likely to be pro-choice and more likely to seek change than those who are married.

In terms of unmarried women's impact on the voting landscape, "Women's Voices. Women Vote" says the voting group, which makes up 46 percent of all women voters, is large enough to be influential. "Unmarried women represent millions more voters with very clear concerns about the economy, health care, and education. They want big changes and a more progressive agenda that addresses their economic worries most of all," said Lake.

By implementing a major voter registration and get-out-the-vote program "Women's Voices. Women Vote" says it can create a larger constituency for progressive values. Despite the clear commitment to a liberal political view, the group maintains it is a nonpartisan effort funded by The Tides Center in San Francisco.

Quote of the Day: "We interrupt the regularly scheduled Kerry-bashing for a ray of political hope." --Columnist Brian McGrory on some signs of life in the Kerry campaign in Iowa. (Boston Globe)

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