Washington Wrap

Dotty Lynch, Douglas Kiker, Steve Chaggaris, Beth Lester, Clothilde Ewing and Beth Brenner of the CBS News Political Unit have the latest from the nation's capital.

Cheney Does Des Moines: Vice President Cheney was on the warpath in Iowa on Monday as he struck back at Democrats repeated criticism of the nation's economy. According to the Des Moines Register, Cheney had strong words for those who've called for repealing the Bush tax cuts. "We believe that when families, small businesses and farmers are hurting, the best way to help them is to let them keep more of what they earn."

Cheney addressed a crowd of about 380 people, who had paid $100 a ticket, at a fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, who incidentally was among 21 Republicans who joined Democrats to bar the administration from implementing overtime rules. Cheney's trip was his second to the state in less than three weeks. His first trip, to headline a Bush/Cheney fundraiser in Des Moines, brought in something to the tune of around $250,000.

His comments were well placed and came after a Des Moines Register poll in September found that 53 percent of Iowans considered strengthening the economy a top priority. However, if October's CBS News/New York Times poll is any indication, the president is losing the confidence of Americans who no longer see him making the right economic decisions.
According to the poll, 56 percent of Americans are uneasy about Mr. Bush's approach to the economy, while 40 percent are confident. As recently as April, 54 percent were confident in his ability to make economic decisions and 42 percent were not. October's poll interviewed 981 people between September 28 and October 1. There was a margin of error of plus or minus three percent.

Although two Democratic candidates, Wesley Clark and Joe Lieberman, have vowed not to compete in the Iowa caucuses, Cheney's visit indicates that the Bush/Cheney duo is ready to compete in the state they lost by just 4,144 votes last time. "In the 2000 election, we noticed Iowa was pretty close in the presidential contest the last time around," Cheney said. "But in 2004, we expect to carry Iowa by a substantial margin. President Bush and I will run hard and take nothing for granted."

See Dick Smile: If you notice a certain bounce in Dick Gephardt's walk Tuesday it's probably due to the morning papers from Des Moines and Washington, both of which featured glowing updates on the Missouri congressman's presidential campaign.

The Washington Post talked to nearly two dozen Republican strategists, lawmakers and state chairmen and found that "Gephardt was portrayed as the Democratic candidate best prepared and positioned to defeat President Bush in a head-to-head matchup next year. The reasons, they said: Gephardt consistently supported the Iraq war, enjoys unrivaled support among union leade4rs and hails from the Midwest, where many Republicans believe the presidential election will be decided. They also cite his health care plan, experience and discipline as key factors."

The Post also has John McCain's 2000 campaign manager, Rick Davis, say that "Gephardt is best positioned to exploit Bush's weaknesses on the economy and jobs because he effectively neutralized one of Bush's greatest strengths – national security – by taking a hard line early against Iraq and Afghanistan."

Halfway across the country, in Gephardt's do-or-die state of Iowa, the Des Moines Register's David Yepsen writes: "Two new polls of likely Iowa caucus-goers indicate Howard Dean has peaked here and that Richard Gephardt has dug himself out of his summertime hole to reclaim his position as the front-runner in the state. There's also interesting evidence that Gephardt's centrist views on Iraq are more in tune with rank-and-file Democrats here than Dean's strong anti-war positions."

For Gephardt - who won the 1988 caucuses only to come in second in New Hampshire and drop out of the race on March 25, 1988 after running out of money - a glowing column from the state's political dean probably fired him up more than, say, a debate on NAFTA.

Dean, on the other hand, gets this kick-to-the-shins from Yepsen: "Dean's campaign appears to have plateaued." Yepsen cites the California recall, Wesley Clark's entry into the race as an anti-war alternative and the importance of economic issues as reasons for Dean's slippage. "That means the campaign dialogue has shifted from issues that played to Dean's early strength and moved toward Gephardt, how has always maintained a focus on jobs."

Kerry In NH – Up or Stable? Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., is polling at 19 percent in two recent New Hampshire polls, however, he comes in second to Howard Dean in both -- a distant second in one poll and six points back in the other.

Of course, Kerry is touting the Suffolk University poll that shows him having "cut Dean's NH lead to 6," according to a press release. The poll taken Oct. 17-19 shows Dean with 25 percent and Kerry with 19 percent. It also shows Kerry's favorable rating rising from 58-66 percent, while Dean was at 60 percent. In September, Kerry trailed Dean by 9 in the same poll.

"John Kerry is back," said Suffolk University professor David Paleologos.

Not so fast, professor. A poll conducted Oct. 13-15 by Franklin Pierce College shows Kerry trailing Dean 33 to 19 percent, a 14-point differential.

These polls come on the heels of Kerry's campaign fund-raising filings with the Federal Election Commission, which shows him spending over $500,000 in Massachusetts and New Hampshire between July and September. Candidates regularly run ads on Massachusetts TV stations that beam into New Hampshire. Other big spenders there include John Edwards with $520,000, Dick Gephardt at $240,000 and Howard Dean $205,000.

The Kerry camp is pushing another poll that shows their candidate matching up with President Bush better than the other Dems. In the Zogby Poll, Kerry trails the president 45-41 percent, Dean is down 47-39 percent, Dick Gephardt would lose to Mr. Bush 47-38 percent, Joe Lieberman would fall 46-38 percent, and Wesley Clark trails 46-37 percent.

Meantime, Kerry spent Monday evening live from Harvard University taking questions from Chris Matthews and Harvard students. Most of the hour-long interview focused on Iraq but the topic of Mike Dukakis came up with Kerry insinuating he wouldn't let the president treat him like Mr. Bush's father treated Dukakis in the 1988 presidential campaign.

When asked if being labeled a liberal from Massachusetts would hurt him like it hurt Dukakis, Kerry shot back, "The labels are not what are important. What's important is what do you fight for? What do you stand for?"

"Anybody who was part of the Dukakis campaign knows he didn't lose because he came from Massachusetts," Kerry continued. "He believed he didn't need to fight back, and he will tell you today that was a mistake."

"I'm a fighter. And I will fight back, and I am going to go right at this president."

When asked what his favorite movie was, Kerry hesitated for a moment, afraid he was going to "date himself," then said two John Belushi classics, "Animal House" and "The Blues Brothers."

Gore And Guns: Accusations are flying in the Kentucky gubernatorial race, and with Election Day on Nov. 2, Republican nominee Rep. Ernie Fletcher is pulling out the big guns.

According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, Fletcher's campaign is running radio ads in western Kentucky claiming his Democratic opponent, Ben Chandler, "supported Al Gore, a man who wanted to take our guns away." In 2000, when Gore was the Democratic nominee for president, he did push for more gun control, but there is no evidence he ever advocated the confiscation of people's guns.

Fletcher campaign manager Daniel Groves defended the ad by saying that Gore, "strongly advocated gun control," and, "What he wanted to do would have in effect taken away people's guns." When asked to expand on this assumption, Groves had nothing substantial to say the paper reports.

In response to the ads, Chandler campaign manager Mark Nickolas said, "Fletcher is trying to create separation on issues where there is none."

If the National Rifle Association's ratings are a good barometer, Nickolas appears to be correct. Fletcher, the current 6th District congressmen, received an A-plus rating. Chandler, the state attorney general, received an A, the highest rating allowed for non-legislators.

The FBI Is Your Friend: Turns out that the FBI investigation into corruption in Philly politics may actually be helping incumbent Mayor John Street's reelection campaign.

Two weeks ago, the FBI launched the investigation, confiscating documents and tapping the Mayor's phone. But far from hurting his chances in the midst of a tight re-election battle with Sam Katz, the first post-investigation poll by Temple University/CBS3/KYW-AM shows that Street has pulled ahead of Katz for the first time in the race, 48 to 41 percent. One month ago, Katz led Street by 46 to 40 percent.

Why the surge? It appears that Street is capitalizing on African American voters' distrust of the FBI and using the investigation to portray himself as a victim under attack from greater forces. As the AP reports, "Philadelphia's second black mayor has sought to cast himself as a man being persecuted because of his race, and the message appears to be resonating with black voters."

That explanation is borne out in the new poll: Street's support among black voters is up 14 percent, from 70 percent last month to 84 percent last week. As Berwood Yost, director of the Floyd Institute's Center for Public Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall College, tells AP, "[Street's] greatest weakness going into this was a lack of enthusiasm among his base, which is African Americans and Democrats. The scandal has re-energized that base."

The positive bounce from an FBI investigation is being dubbed by some as the "Marion Barry Factor." According to the Christian Science Monitor, Street's rebound is reminiscent of Marion Barry's re-election as mayor of Washington, D.C. following his conviction on drug possession charges.

In Philadelphia, Mayor Street seems to be using the political playbook designed by Mayor Barry: an offensive game that combines race and charges that larger forces are trying to manipulate the election. The AP says that like Barry, Street is using "race, and unconfirmed charges that the Ashcroft Justice Department is trying to manipulate the election" (AP) to help draw support. Black voters have rallied around Street, like they did for Barry when they feel that black politicians are being "harassed" by greater powers.

Quote of the Day: "Yes, it was easy for you. Typical. The men always go pale. They used to sit outside and drink martinis." -- Barbara Bush after a man bragged about how easy the birth of his new child was. (Newsweek)