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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.

So Long Osama: Groups trying to help the anti-Dean candidate are not having an easy time of it. The Americans for Jobs, Health Care and Progressive Values, which has run television advertisements that heavily criticized Dean, is now being forced to take down its television advertisements in early primary states. In Iowa, the enforcer is a new campaign finance law that requires all third-party advertising to end 30 days before primary/caucus dates. That's right – tomorrow marks 30 days till Iowa votes.

In New Hampshire and South Carolina, however, the enforcer may be public opinion. AJHCPV's most controversial ad, which features a picture of Osama bin Laden and tells viewers, "Howard Dean just cannot compete with George Bush on foreign policy," will stop airing on Thursday. The ad had caused a major uproar, with the Dean campaign demanding that it be pulled and asking all other campaigns to "denounce" the spot. According to the group's treasurer, David Jones, the ad break was always planned. "We're going to take a break for the holidays and reassess where we are after that," Jones told the AP.

But some backers of the group say the ads are being pulled because of the furor they caused. Rick Sloan, communications director for the Machinists union, which gave $50,000 to AJHCPV and has endorsed Richard Gephardt, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, "I think they're pulling the ad because they've done more damage to Dick Gephardt than any of his opponents could ever have hoped to have done." Far from questioning Dean's foreign policy experience, the ad seems to have blown up in AJHCPV's face.

While the anti-Dean ad assault is taking a holiday, other campaigns are certainly filling the airwaves. John Edwards and Joe Lieberman both launched ads Wednesday in New Hampshire. Edwards's ad focuses on ending corporate corruption and Lieberman touts his consistent record. Wesley Clark also goes on-air in the Granite State on Thursday with a spot that discusses his plan for success in Iraq. And not to be undone, John Kerry's campaign announced that it would start running the ad in New Hampshire on special interest groups that is currently playing on screens in Iowa.

The Whouley Primary Could Be Paying Off: Super-duper news for John Kerry in this morning's Des Moines Register, in which political columnist David Yepsen writes that despite the proliferation of stories on Howard Dean, "There's another political story developing in Iowa: the improving position of John Kerry. The Massachusetts senator has been quietly doing things here that are improving his caucus prospects."

Yepsen continues: Much to the dismay of Dick Gephardt's campaign and the absolute delight of uber-field director Mike Whouley, who was dispatched by Kerry to shore up his Iowa strategy, "If Kerry were to upset Gephardt for second place, that would amount to one of those 'unexpectedly strong finishes' that dominates news coverage on caucus night. Many in the political community 'expect' Dean or Gephardt to win and the other to come in second. If Gephardt finishes second, goes this conventional wisdom, he's a goner because he won Iowa in 1988 and will have failed to repeat the feat.

"A second-place finish for Kerry would be a legitimate Big Deal and would position him as the anti-Dean candidate in the race. Kerry would become the 'comeback kid' of 2004, something Bill Clinton was able to spin out of his second-place finish in the New Hampshire primary in 1992. There is much positive buzz surrounding a candidate who comes from behind to win that designation."

Yepsen, the most influential political columnist in Iowa, says Kerry has boosted his standing in Iowa by, "working the fundamentals, that's all. He's been spending a lot more time in Iowa (which he should have done from the beginning) and impresses caucus-goers with his brains, experience and level-headed manner. His campaign staffers are a seasoned lot who execute well on the daily details of signing up caucus-goers. He's increased the number of television commercials. Answers that used to be 500 words are down to 250. He's a combat veteran, an important quality given that the Republicans will go after any Democratic candidate - especially Dean, who didn't go to Vietnam or serve in the military at all - for being weak on defense."

Meanwhile, next door in Wisconsin, which holds its primary on Feb. 17 and could be a hard-fought battle if more than one Democrat is still alive, Dean is holding a strong lead. A survey of 402 likely primary voters found Dean with 33 percent, trailed by Joe Lieberman with 12 percent, Wesley Clark with 11 percent, Gephardt at 9 percent, Kerry at 6 percent, Dennis Kucinich at 3 percent, John Edwards at 2 percent, Carol Moseley Braun at 1 percent and Rev. Al Sharpton bringing up the rear with absolutely no support.

University of Wisconsin professor Ken Goldstein, the poll's director, says the real story (like so many polls recently, including the latest CBS News/New York Times survey) is below the top line. He tells that the race for Wisconsin remains fluid. "Three out of four (74 percent) likely Democratic primary voters told us they could still change their minds and this is likely to be a two-man race by the time the presidential primary campaign gets to Wisconsin."

The Swan's Not Singing: Sen. Bob Graham's decision to drop out of both the 2004 presidential and Florida Senate races could have been viewed as his final farewell to politics. But after two separate speeches on Tuesday and Wednesday, Graham appears to be running for a larger prize: vice-president. On Tuesday, Graham praised Democratic frontrunner Howard Dean, defending his foreign policy agenda as "visionary." And on Wednesday, he praised five of his former rivals for their constructive ideas: Joe Lieberman on the economy, John Kerry on the environment, Dick Gephardt on health care, Wes Clark on keeping America safe and Dean yet again on foreign policy, according to the Palm Beach Daily News. As if his praise left any doubt in anyone's mind, he ended the program by emphasizing, "this is not my swan song."

Meanwhile, Graham's decision not to run for re-election has created a free-for-all for his Senate seat. Former New Hampshire Sen. Bob Smith announced on Wednesday that plans to run in Florida, reports the AP. Smith adds his name to a growing list of Republicans who are running or considering a run, including Rep. Katherine Harris, state House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, legal activist Larry Klayman and former HUD Secretary Mel Martinez.

Speaking of Martinez, Gov. Jeb Bush took pains on Wednesday to set the record straight, saying Martinez is not the "hand-picked candidate" of the Bush White House, reports the Orlando Sentinel. "I know my brother has deep respect for Mel, they're friends, just as I am with Mel," Bush said. "But…they're not endorsing him, they're not picking him. He's not the hand-picked candidate." Martinez was widely believed to be the favorite choice of the Bush White House, having been approached earlier this year by Karl Rove to consider a run. Martinez initially turned down the request, but after Graham bowed out, he appears to have reconsidered.

Republicans presently hold a narrow 51-48 majority in the U.S. Senate and with five Democrats from South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana and Florida choosing not to seek re-election, the Southeast has emerged as the place to watch.

Rowland Faces The Music: Gov. John Rowland, R-Conn., issued a mea culpa Wednesday and asked for forgiveness in his first public appearance since admitting that he took gifts from contractors and state employees to renovate his summer home.

In a previous news conference on Dec. 2 he said that he had paid for all the work himself. "Think of the hundreds and hundreds of rumors that I have had to endure in the past year ... Think of how many came true," he said then.

On Wednesday, Rowland took the podium to apologize for his previous statements, quoting the "Christian author C.S. Lewis," who said that, "in our adversity, God shouts to us."

"Needless to say, I am hearing him loud and clear," Rowland said, according to The New York Times.

"Every human being has shortcomings ... Every human being has experienced failures," he said. "With these failures comes embarrassment and a profound sense of humility."

"With your forgiveness and your support, I will get back up."

Rowland's admission and apology come after days of questions surrounding the renovations, questions that have resulted in some calling for his resignation or even his impeachment. A Quinnipiac poll released on Wednesday showed that 44 percent of Connecticut voters thought he should resign in light of the scandal. Rowland, however, said he intended to finish out the final three years of his term.

Shortly after Rowland's passionate apology, his wife, Patricia, went the opposite route, reciting for the crowd a sarcastic version of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," where she defended her husband and attacked the media.

"'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except me, the first spouse," she said.

"The thirst and hunger for the day's biggest story has earned them black coal for their ill-gotten glory," Mrs. Rowland said about the press.

Democratic state Rep. Jim O'Rourke criticized Mrs. Rowland, telling the AP, "It did run counter to what was supposed to be a heartfelt and sincere apology for lying and taking inappropriate gifts."

Quote of the Day: "NOTE: THIS EMAIL IS ON THE RECORD. IN FACT, WE'D LIKE YOU TO PRINT THE WHOLE THING IN YOUR PAPER." – Kerry press secretary Stephanie Cutter, who was fingered this week by the New York Times' Adam Nagourney as the source behind an anti-Dean e-mail, despite Cutter's note at the top saying the information should be identifed as "attributable to a Dem campaign." Nagourney said he'd never made any deal with Cutter and was not obligated to keep her name (or Kerry's) out of his story. (Kerry Campaign Press Release)

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