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Washington Wrap

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



Supreme Shuffle?: Citing unnamed but "well-informed court observers," New York Newsday says there could be as many as two Supreme Court resignations next month. Chief Justice "Rehnquist's resignation is considered likely though not certain and Sandra Day O'Connor's is considered likely by some court observers but less likely by others." And yet another seat could open if Justice John Paul Stevens, 83, retires; though that is considered "unlikely."

There has been no change in the court since President Clinton appointed Justice Stephen Breyer in 1994 - the longest period without turnover in 180 years - and partisans on both sides are getting ready for a fierce battle.

Conservatives are split between Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas to fill the chief justice's slot, and over the question of whether potential nominee White House counsel Al Gonzales has a strong enough anti-abortion record.

Democrats are gearing up, as well. DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe, in a speech on Saturday night at the Ohio Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, talked about the potential resignations as "sounding bugles in a tremendous struggle." He said President Bush's judicial nominees shared a common goal of wanting to take the U.S. back to 1952. "The term right-wing extremists doesn't even begin to capture how out of the mainstream these folks are ... and George Bush wants to put them on the highest Court of the land."

The DNC's Web site talks about "signs" and "secret meetings," including one at the White House with Rehnquist. (Ed. Note: Maybe not all that secret after all.) And they urge Democrats to "Act Now" before "decades of Supreme Court protections of our cherished American values" are overturned.

The groups opposing the other judicial nominations have been using these campaigns as a warning to the White House and as a training ground for the "big one." It looks like the Democrats see this as a big fundraising opportunity (especially with small donors via direct mail), and they might be pretty disappointed if the current justices decide to stick around for a while.

Where's Carol?: After Iowa's "Presidential Town Meeting" on Saturday, Carol Moseley Braun immediately returned to Chicago, leaving six of her rivals to campaign in the crucial primary state. The Chicago Tribune reports her early departure raised more questions about the seriousness of her campaign, even though Braun insists she is running to win.

Braun has appeared with the other Democratic hopefuls in several joint events, but her critics say she has done little on her own. This weekend marked Braun's first appearance in Iowa since she launched her campaign on Feb. 19. Braun dismissed the criticism, telling the Tribune that she deserved more time to prove herself because she was the newest candidate.

However, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., entered the race after Braun and both have made repeated Iowa visits. Last week in Iowa, Kucinich unveiled his solution to the health care crisis which is evolving as a major issue in the Democratic race. Unlike her rivals, Braun says she will wait to detail her policies until later this summer.

Ron Walters, a University of Maryland professor who studies black politicians, questioned Braun's intentions in the presidential race. "Where is she going to get the money to wage a campaign of any vigor?" Walters asked. Braun had raised $72,000 by April 15, which is 100 times less than the fundraising totals for Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.

The Tribune reports that Braun is in the bottom tier of fundraising, only recently opened a campaign office and her Web site shows no new news since March. But Braun points to polls that show her in the same position or better than some of the other candidates. Braun drew crowds of supporters in Iowa, including Pascale Bernard of New York. Bernard said, "What's she's doing is more significant than winning an election. She's laying the groundwork for when we eventually get a woman president. One day, people will say that she was one of the stepping stones."

However, Braun's Democratic rivals are not as enthusiastic about her historical significance. With a crowded field of nine contenders, Braun's lack of an aggressive campaign is causing complaints from other candidates who think she is wasting strictly rationed time during the forums.

"If you're running for president, at a minimum you either have to talk about ideas or travel to where the voters are, and she's doing neither," a senior strategist for a Democratic campaign told the Tribune. "It raises the question of what she's doing. It's a mystery."

We may not know about her campaign strategy, but we do know what Carol Moseley Braun was doing in Chicago last week . The Hotline reported on Friday that she was spotted on a movie date with Illinois Senate candidate Blair Hull to see "The Matrix Reloaded."

Dialers Like Dennis: The Washington Post reports that following the AFSCME forum in Des Moines, Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who had conducted "dial tests" during the event, asked the 30 Iowans to rate the candidates' favorability on a scale of 1 to 100. The surprise winner was Dennis Kucinich at 78, followed by Al Sharpton at 76, Dick Gephardt at 75, Howard Dean at 73, John Edwards at 69, Carol Moseley Braun at 66 and Bob Graham at 63.

John Kerry and Joe Lieberman were not rated because they did not participate in the forum.

On a separate question of who was most electable, Gephardt scored best among the seven who appeared in person.

Ose Opts Out Of Senate Run: Rep. Doug Ose, R-Calif., who seemed to be gearing up for a 2004 Senate run against incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer, announced Friday he was leaving public office altogether.

Ose, in his third term in the House, had already pledged to only serve three terms when he initially ran for Congress in 1998. He had been the only Republican actively setting up a Senate run, forming an exploratory committee in December and laying out tentative plans for an announcement in June, according to the Sacramento Bee.

He made his decision last week and informed his campaign staff Thursday and his congressional staff on Friday, when he also released a letter to his supporters.

"While I may pursue public office again in the future, I have come to the conclusion that this is not my time to seek higher office," Ose said. "I did not make any decision due to a lack of support or financial commitments, but because of my strong desire to be a good husband and father."

The Bee reports that Ose's departure from the race should generate interest in U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin, a Republican moderate woman and a Mexican immigrant. Some Republican sources have said that the White House would like to see her as the nominee on the same ticket as the president.

Other names that are floating around for the Senate race include Rep. George Radanovich, R-Calif., who has been traveling the state and is expected to decide this summer. Less likely to run but also being mentioned are former senator and governor Pete Wilson and 2002 gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon.

Even with all the names being tossed around, Republicans admit it's unclear who they'll find in their attempt to unseat Boxer 18 months from now. "We may very well have a strong candidate who can beat Barbara Boxer," Republican strategist Sal Russo told the Associated Press. "It's just not obvious at the moment."

Meantime, Ose's retirement opens up his House seat for a potential comeback attempt by former congressman and 1998 GOP gubernatorial candidate Dan Lungren. The Bee has reported that Lungren is trying to sell his current home and is looking to move to Ose's district. Other Republicans considering Ose's House seat are state Sen. Rico Oller and Assemblyman Dave Cox.

Political Week Ahead:

Tues. 5/20 – EMILY's List presidential forum in Washington. Candidates come one by one to meet with members, make 15-minute speeches and take some questions.

Tues. 5/20 – Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., speaks to the Potomac Officers Club, a philanthropic group of high-tech execs, in McLean, Va.

Tues. 5/20 – Kentucky gubernatorial primary.

Tues. 5/20 – Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., campaigns in New York.

Tues. 5/20 – Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., campaigns in St. Louis, where he'll speak to the St. Louis Labor Council/AFL-CIO meeting.

Wed. 5/21 – NRSC and NRCC host "The President's Dinner" annual major
fund-raising event in Washington. President Bush will attend.

Wed. 5/21 – Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., will unveil a portion of his health care plan in Washington, D.C. Lieberman also speaks to a closed-press meeting of the New Democrat Coalition.

Wed. 5/21 – Edwards will travel to Nevada, Iowa to make a major policy speech to address rural issues. Also making stops in Sioux City and Council Bluffs.

Fri. 5/23-24 – Howard Dean campaigns in Iowa.

Fri. 5/23-24 – Edwards will visit New Hampshire to speak to mill workers at the Gorham paper mill. He will also make stops in Conway, Laconia, Manchester, Nashua, Salem/Derry, and Portsmouth.

Sun. 5/25 – Dean campaigns in New Hampshire.

Sun. 5/25 – Lieberman campaigns in Dubuque, Iowa.

Quote of the Day: The president ended the conversation "by kissing me on the head." - Ari Fleisher on President Bush's reaction on Friday when he informed him that he wanted to resign as press secretary. (AP)

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