Washington Wrap

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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.

Taking A Gamble: As chairman of the upcoming Democratic National Convention and governor of one of the Feb. 3 primary states, New Mexico's Bill Richardson holds a lot of cards. So when he and Howard Dean emerged from a private meeting and held a joint press conference on Wednesday, it looked as if Dean may have hit the jackpot.

"Governor Dean has an impressive array of endorsements from New Mexico from Hispanic and Native American leaders," Richardson said to reporters, including CBS' Eric Salzman. "Literally, my organization's endorsed him."

His organization? When Richardson's office was pressed for an explanation on what the governor meant by his "organization," the response was simply "his coalition of supporters." It is unlikely though that an accomplished politician such as Richardson didn't know exactly what he was doing.

Although both Dean and Richardson insisted their joint appearance did not constitute an endorsement, love was clearly in the air. While claiming the event was merely to "welcome" Dean, Richardson pointed out that Dean had the strongest organization in the state and that he was very impressed with the fact that Dean didn't swoop in and out of the state, but had been there several times. Dean returned the love, calling Richardson "one of the foremost and important figures in this country."

Following the press conference, a spokesperson for Richardson asked reporters not to frame the meeting as if he were endorsing Dean, because he wasn't. However, two other Democrats, former New Mexico Gov. Toney Anaya and former Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chavez, did come out for Dean.

Dean also met with several Native American groups in New Mexico and his position on gambling could cause him a little trouble there - or at least that's what the Gephardt campaign seems to think. The Albuquerque Times reports that a flyer was "placed on each chair" at the Congress of American Indians meeting that said Howard Dean "is against gambling," a stance "about as popular" as "a pro-Custer platform." The paper said the flyer came from the Gephardt campaign.

The Native American Times, however, reports that Dean told the group that "while he is personally opposed to gaming," and opposed it in Vermont, he "respected and supported federal rules which allow tribal gaming." He was reacting to a story, also in the Native American Times, which included a letter sent out by Rep. Patrick Kennedy, a Gephardt supporter, on Dean's opposition to gaming.

We're Gonna Party Like It's 1994: Newt Gingrich dove back into the political waters on Wednesday, urging his fellow conservatives to back the GOP- (and AARP-) backed plan to revamp Medicare to include a costly prescription drug benefit for seniors.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Gingrich, speaking to a group at the headquarters of the anti-tax advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform, called the Medicare reform plan "one of the great historic moments" for the conservative movement.

Gingrich, who briefly and controversially re-entered the political realm earlier this year when he harshly criticized Secretary of State Colin Powell, praised the proposal for allowing people to establish tax-free medical savings accounts. He called the accounts the "largest change in health policy" in 60 years.

The Washington Post reports that Gingrich also might have played a role in the AARP's decision to back the Republican plan. The Post reports that William Novelli, the AARP's president, had long been courted by Gingrich and had written an introduction to a book on health care reform Gingrich wrote last year.

But Gingrich denies he played a major role in getting the AARP, long associated with Democratic issues, to back the plan. "I have not been an intermediary. He is comfortable enough with (Senate Majority Leader Bill) Frist and (House Speaker Dennis) Hastert that he did not need me," Gingrich said.

Gingrich has been brought in to win over conservative groups - including the Heritage Foundation, the American Conservative Union and the National Taxpayers Union - that have criticized the bill for being too expensive.

In other news on the Medicare bill, the AFL-CIO announced it plans to spend $1 million on TV ads urging defeat of the bill. The ad will run in key congressional districts with members who haven't yet decided how they'll vote.

The AARP, meanwhile, faces continued criticism from Democrats for backing the GOP's plan. Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., got 85 of her fellow Democrats to resign from the AARP in protest. In a letter to the AARP's Novelli, Woolsey said the group's "misguided decision to embrace this legislation and sacrifice the future of Medicare must not go unchallenged."

The AARP has been running its own $7 million newspaper and TV campaign urging undecided members to vote in favor of the plan.

A Fresh Start Or A Last Chance: The John Kerry campaign is pumping up Friday as a watershed day for their candidate as he will outline his ideas for the first 100 days of a Kerry administration.

Aides say this will be his stump speech from here on out and will be an extension of his seven-minute remarks at the Iowa Jefferson-Jackson Dinner last Saturday. While they're being tight-lipped about the speech's details, aides say Kerry will talk about "the changes he will make and the issues he will fight for in the early days of a Kerry Presidency."

Kerry and his new campaign staff spent time on Wednesday allaying the worries of elected officials. The Boston Herald reports that that Kerry met with lawmakers at the Statehouse in Boston on Wednesday hoping to prove to them that his campaign "isn't over yet." And CBS News has learned that Mary Beth Cahill, Kerry's new campaign manager and former Ted Kennedy chief of staff, was on Capitol Hill Wednesday with members of the Massachusetts House delegation, all 10 of whom support Kerry, to calm them down as well.

Roll Call reports that the members came away feeling better. "There is a sense among those of us who have been with Kerry for a long time that the campaign has turned a corner," said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass. "The staff stories and inside baseball stuff are behind us."

In addition, the Kerry campaign says it's solely focused on Iowa and New Hampshire, and that their ads are up "for good" in both states. The primaries on Feb. 3 and beyond will covered by people on the ground and by visits from Kerry's wife Teresa.

"Most people know John well enough, whether they are Members or voters, and see that now we are to hear the John Kerry we know about it," said Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass. "We know what he can do and what he stands for."

Clark Caves: On Wednesday, the Clark campaign waved a white flag and decided it could make the Dec. 9 DNC debate in New Hampshire after all. Clark, who is skipping Iowa and putting heavy emphasis on the Jan. 27 primary in New Hampshire, had received tremendous flak for saying he was ducking the event to go to a fundraiser in New York.

Also on Wednesday, Clark criticized Howard Dean's regulatory position, saying, "1970s-style regulation is not going to get our economy moving again. It failed in the past, it will fail again." Clark based his comments on what he views as the success of the deregulatory policies pursued under President Clinton. Clark told reporters that Dean was trying to "distance" himself from Mr. Clinton's economic policies and wondered why he would "Distance himself from more than 22 million new jobs?"

Why use the Dean comments as a launch pad for his own economic message? The effort was in part to make the case for Clark's electability. On the economy, Clark embraced Mr. Clinton's record, perhaps hoping that the former president's credentials will rub off and give him a boost from voters who twice voted for Mr. Clinton's financial message. And on foreign policy, senior adviser Jamie Rubin and pollster Geoff Garin used a conference call with reporters to repeatedly tout Clark's background and leadership abilities as better than his rivals.

Taking a none-too-subtle jab at rival Dean, Garin said that he doubted a governor with no foreign policy experience would have been elected in 2000 if the current world situation existed. And attacking Kerry, respectfully, Rubin said that his Senate experience was valuable but "pales" in comparison to Clark's leadership of NATO. "There is a difference between executive experience and legislative experience," Rubin explained.

Talking about the economy and foreign policy, the Clark campaign spent Wednesday selling Clark's credentials as superior on all fronts. "This election is unusual because electibility is not just a back room issue but is something voters care a lot about," Garin told reporters.

Quote of the Day: "It was pointed out to me that the last noted American to visit London stayed in a glass box dangling over the Thames. ... A few might have been happy to provide similar arrangements for me." -President Bush, in a speech to academics in London, making a lighthearted comparison between protests against his visit to Britain and American magician David Blaine's 44-day starvation stunt over the Thames.