Washington Wrap

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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.

Soft Money Lives: Even though the new campaign finance law bans the national parties and federal candidates from raising "soft" money, it hasn't stopped outside groups from taking in the giant checks.

Several Democratic-leaning groups have formed since the new law took effect last year including ones put together by billionaire George Soros, TV producer Norman Lear and former AFL-CIO political director Steve Rosenthal. Their goal is to counter the $170 million President Bush is expected to raise for his re-election as well as bridge the gap between the Republican and Democratic parties' fund-raising.

"This administration has spent the last three years writing and rewriting laws and regulations to benefit their contributors," Rosenthal told the AP. Rosenthal is also a founder of ACT, Americans Coming Together. He, Emily's List president Ellen Malcolm and former Clinton White House adviser Harold Ickes are planning a major grassroots and media operation funded by many of the big donors who can no longer write their checks to the DNC.

These 527 organizations file under the IRS as nonprofit, tax-exempt groups, however they're not supposed to take part in federal election activity or coordinate with the parties or candidates. And while Congress passed a law mandating 527's to disclose their donors, some of the other "nonprofits" may not.

Some Republicans, including RNC chairman Ed Gillespie, have cried foul. But it looks like instead of trying to shut down the Dems, they're going to fight fire with fire.

"We were never for the soft money limits in the first place," said GOP consultant Frank Donatelli, who is now forming his own group with Bush recount lawyer George Terwilliger and consultant Craig Shirley. "If the other side is going to continue to avail themselves of incredibly large soft money checks, we're not going to practice unilateral disarmament. We're going to respond in kind," Donatelli said.

Meantime, House Administration Committee Chairman Bob Ney, R-Ohio, asked six leaders of Democratic-leaning groups to testify about their efforts on Thursday, and five of them wrote a letter refusing to appear, reports Roll Call. The sixth, AFSCME President Gerald McEntee, who is also the CEO of Voices for Working Families, didn't sign the letter and hasn't told the committee his plans.

The Democrats' letter said, "The dangers of such an inquiry are particularly acute when six of the eight organizations that we understand to have been asked to testify share political views and objectives opposed to those of many, if not most, of the committee majority."

Three representatives of Republican groups, including Donatelli and Terwilliger will appear. A spokesman for Ney said the hearing will go on whether or not the Democrats appear.

Joe-Vember To Remember: As part of "Joe-Vember to Remember" the Lieberman campaign is starting to get serious. In an aggressive push through New Hampshire, the Washington Post reports the Connecticut senator's campaign will feature "17 straight days of Lieberman family members on the ground." The family members include his sister, son, granddaughter and, of course, his 89-year-old mother Marcia.

Marcia Lieberman has been a regular on the campaign trail and was a convenient prop of sorts for Lieberman at the AARP forum on Tuesday. Not only will she play the part of the doting mother, she'll even get down and dirty when necessary. Well, sort of. In a reference to John Edwards' claim that she endorsed his health care plan, rather than her son's, Marcia Lieberman issued the following statement: "Is my son's health care plan the best, or what? That John Edwards is a nice looking boy, but I don't know what he was talking about. I've been telling Joe for years that we need a prescription drug benefit, and I know he'll get it done as President."

Interestingly, the statement was issued while Marcia was in the audience so either she carries a Blackberry or her alter ego Jano Cabrera read her mind.

The campaign is also looking to boost fundraising figures by borrowing elements from Howard Dean and President Bush's successful fund-raising strategies, reports the New Haven Register. Lieberman's latest drive, named "CT pride" is am Internet-based, "bundling" scheme, which asks contributors to add donors and to recruit others.

While Lieberman's main Web page gives contributors the option of donating between $25 and $2,000, the Connecticut page asks for a mere $10, or a written-in amount, along with a pledge to find five more "team" members. Lieberman had only $4 million cash on hand at the beginning of October and he's been struggling to get money to run his TV ads in New Hampshire and the Feb. 3 breakthrough states.

Meanwhile, Lieberman picked up an endorsement from Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida on Tuesday who said he will advise the campaign on civil rights, retirement and immigration issues.

Gay Marriage, Day Two: The day after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that lesbian and gay couples have the right to civil marriages under the state's constitution, political leaders of all stripes are trying to figure out how the issue will affect the 2004 election season.

On the Republican side, there is much glee. As Susan Page writes in USA Today, "The repercussions have the potential to energize millions of conservative Christians in next year's elections." This would bring mostly Republican voters to the polls in even greater numbers, which is good news for President Bush. Indeed, an evangelical voter turnout drive is already being revved up in some places. The Rev. Jerry Falwell has started a Web site to allow voters to record their views – and their personal information, presumably for future contact.

Also in the reaction column, House Majority Leader Tom Delay, R-Tex., responded to the ruling by calling for a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage, a move that would surely inflame the debate even further and increase the Republican voting base.

Beyond energizing the GOP base, the issue of gay marriage may also draw some more conservative Democrats to the Republican side. Gay marriage – or civil unions – may become "a 'wedge' issue that separates moderate voters from Democratic candidates the way school busing and welfare reform once did," concludes Page. Democrats could not only find their opponent's base energized but their own claim to swing voters decreased.

A poll released by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press on Tuesday shows the number of respondents who oppose same-sex marriage is up to 59 percent from 53 percent in July. Of those who intend to vote for President Bush, 75 percent oppose gay marriage. Among Democrats, the respondents were split, with 46 percent supporting and 48 percent opposing.

But the news on the Democratic side is not all bad. While most analysts concede that the issue favors Republicans, they caution the GOP must be careful not to push too hard. The Boston Globe's Kornblut reports that "a protracted, bitter fight in Congress… could alienate wide swaths of the electorate." And Adam Nagourney in the New York Times recalls another President Bush who lost ground with moderates on cultural issues, noting that the current Bush must be careful not "to repeat the mistake his father made in 1992 and become too closely identified with conservative and religious leaders whose attacks on gay rights at the party's convention scared off moderate voters."

Show Me Third: Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri may find his home state's Democratic presidential primary a tougher challenge than expected. His fellow eight presidential rivals have all met the Nov. 18 deadline to appear on the Feb. 3 primary ballot according to CQ Daily.

Through randomized selection, Gephardt's name will appear third on the ballot, following Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, whose name will appear at the top. All three submitted their candidacy papers on Oct. 21, which was the first day of the filing period.

The remaining six Democrats will appear on the ballot in the order in which they filed their candidacy papers: retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, political activist Al Sharpton and former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.

The Republicans will also hold a primary election in Missouri on Feb. 3 in which two political unknowns, Bill Wyatt and Blake Ashby, will challenge President Bush.

Footnote: Murphy's Law: Gephardt campaign manager Steve Murphy is sticking to his claim that Howard Dean's ad on Gephardt's position on Iraq is the first negative ad in Iowa caucus history. "Republican ads don't count," he says, and Al Gore's 2000 ad on flood relief didn't mention rival Bill Bradley by name, although they were in a two-man race and Gore had been hammering Bradley on the issue. Of course, the Dean campaign insists that its ad isn't negative at all. You decide. E-mail your views to Washington Wrap.

Quote of the Day: "First of all, who wants my job?" --DNC chair Terry McAuliffe on whether he's in danger of losing his job. (Inside Politics)