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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.

Santorum Only Marginally Hurt by Gay Flap: A poll released on Thursday found that Pennsylvania Republican Senator Rick Santorum is rated favorably by 55 percent of Pennsylvanians, the same number who gave him a positive rating before his controversial remarks on homosexuality. However, his negative rating went from 20 percent to 33 percent and the number of Pennsylvania voters who are undecided about him fell from 24 percent to 12 percent.

The before-and-after polls conducted by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in April and May also found that 58 percent of Pennsylvanians considered homosexuality to be morally wrong while 27 percent said it was acceptable. However by 45 percent to 35 percept voters said they thought "homosexual relations between consenting adults should be legal."

"The folks back home in Pennsylvania are largely unconcerned about Senator Santorum's remarks, " Quinnipiac's Clay Richard told the AP. Fifty five percent said his comments would not affect their decision on whether to vote for him and 75 percent said he should not resign from the GOP leadership.

Dull and Duller: Roll Call analyst Stuart Rothenberg confirms what Democratic sources have told CBS News privately, that the "fight for the House of Representatives is non-existent." Actually, both sides have been slow to recruit strong candidates but with the Democrats having a 12-seat deficit, their recruitment problems are more severe.

Thursday night President Bush helped raise another $14 million for the National Republican Congressional Committee, which has already out-raised its Democratic counterpart by 5-1. And, Democratic interest groups -particularly labor unions - are "more focused on a different House - the White House. If Democratic interest groups aren't fully committed to the battle for Congress, who can blame the Democratic candidates for hanging back," Rothenberg writes.

Democratic Congressional Campaign committee press secretary Greg Speed disagrees. Speed tells CBS News that the Democrats will run a "robust campaign" and that the members of the Democratic caucus are more committed to the House races than ever before. They have transferred an "extraordinary $2.1 million" from their personal campaign funds to the DCCC to help take back the House. In addition there is a lot of enthusiasm for the new Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi, Speed says, and direct mail appeals signed by her have done extremely will.

Speed also points to the Republican retirements of Mark Foley in Florida, Doug Ose in California and Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania as places where Democrats can win. He says that the Republican "retreads", i.e., candidates who have run before don't have much of a shot.

Rothenberg does see some signs of Democratic activity in Pennsylvania, Alabama and Iowa, and says that uncertainty over the 2004 political environment may be causing some Republicans to hold back as well. The NRCC's Carl Forti tells CBS News that it's "still early" and that a lot of candidate's were waiting until the war was over make decisions.

But, at least right now, Rothenberg dubs the House contests "dull and duller."

Campus Kids Up for Grabs: College students have the potential to be a key group of swing voters in the 2004 election, according to a Harvard University Institute of Politics national survey. These "Campus Kids" will "definitely be voting" and are not yet tied to one party or ideology.

Nearly 3 in 5 undergraduates say they will vote in 2004 and they are almost evenly divided on party affiliation with 29 percent Democrats, 26 percent Republicans and 41 percent Independents. Two-thirds of the "Campus Kids" surveyed supported the Unites States going to war in Iraq and they gave President Bush a 61 percent job approval rating. But, the economy may be an issue for college students, since 74 percent think it will be difficult to find a job after graduation.

"Campus Kids" are the offspring of Soccer Moms and Office Park Dads, but they may be more easily persuaded than their parents. While a CNN/USA Today poll of the general population in April 2003 found that Bush has a 13 percent advantage over a generic Democratic candidate, college students are more evenly divided: 34 percent supported President Bush and 32 percent preferred a Democratic candidate.

"This is an enormous reservoir of potential voters and volunteers, almost 10 million strong, who can be channeled to winning campaigns if they are nurtured," said Dan Glickman, Director of the Institute of Politics, former US Cabinet Secretary and member of Congress. "But candidates who ignore or alienate this demographic group risk losing their elections

Democrats Find Ways to Spend Money in Cities and on Farms: Democratic presidential hopefuls Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., entered the policy arena, both unveiling expensive plans on Wednesday. While Lieberman proposed an effort to find cures for chronic diseases, Edwards was in Iowa presenting his revitalization plan for rural America.

Lieberman said he would spend $150 billion dollars over the next 10 years to create an American Center for Cures to oversee the effort to find cures for diseases such as cancer, Parkinson's, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease. In his remarks at George Washington University, Lieberman said, "Almost half our U.S. population is living with a condition for which we cannot yet offer the hope for a cure."

Health care has been a key issue in the past weeks since Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, have all unveiled plans that aim to cover most of the 41 million uninsured Americans.

Lieberman said he will fully address health insurance costs this summer, but yesterday he added that finding cures for these diseases would cut down the $750 billion a year that is spent on the 100 million Americans who suffer from chronic diseases. "Think of how we could reduce the cost of health care and health insurance if we could cure a lot of these diseases," Lieberman said. He has called his opponents plans "big spending Democratic ideas of the past" and said he would pay for his plan with a combination of public and private funds.

While Lieberman addressed healthcare issues, John Edwards was in Nevada, Iowa, to reveal his rural aid plans in the crucial primary state. His $1 billion proposal would create the Rural Economic Advancement Challenge, or REACH, Fund that would pair venture capitalists with small town entrepreneurs to encourage investment in small towns. Edwards said he would help pay rural teachers, expand the use of renewable fuels, like ethanol, and end federal subsidies for farms that make more than $1 million annually.

Edwards also promised to strictly enforce laws that protect farmers from corporate wrongdoings, prompting Republican critics to point to Edwards' vote against a ban on meatpackers owning livestock. Edwards defended his vote saying that his North Carolina farm constituents told him it would hurt their business.

Just as Edwards was about to finish his speech, the Quad City Times reported that a passing freight train nearly drowned out his closing remarks. He said," I am running for president to renew a sense of hope and opportunity and optimism throughout all America – not just a few islands of technology and prosperity and high finance."

Byrd Steps Up The Criticism: Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V., took to the Senate floor Wednesday to unleash the most intense criticism of the Bush administration and the war on Iraq since the war's end.

Byrd took the Bush administration to task for using the threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to justify the invasion. "Presently our loyal military personnel continue their mission of diligently searching for WMD. They have so far turned up only fertilizer, vacuum cleaners, conventional weapons, and the occasional buried swimming pool," Byrd said.

"Instead of addressing the contradictory evidence, the White House deftly changes the subject," he said. "No weapons of mass destruction have yet turned up, but we are told that they will in time."

"It was widely known before the conflict began that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, as was determined by the United Nations," White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan told the Associated Press. "In fact, we have already found at least two mobile labs" suspected of being capable of producing biological weapons, she said.

Buchan added the administration believes the weapons themselves will eventually be found.

Byrd continued, "if the situation in Iraq is the result of "liberation," we may have set the cause of freedom back 200 years."

"Despite our high-blown claims of a better life for the Iraqi people, water is scarce, and often foul, electricity is a sometime thing, food is in short supply, hospitals are stacked with the wounded and maimed, historic treasures of the region and of the Iraqi people have been looted, and nuclear material may have been disseminated to heaven knows where, while U.S. troops, on orders, looked on and guarded the oil supply."

He also cautioned of the backlash the war may cause saying, "As so many warned this administration before it launched its misguided war on Iraq, there is evidence that our crackdown in Iraq is likely to convince a thousand new Bin Ladens to plan other horrors of the type we have seen in the past several days."

Byrd's comments come on the heels of critical remarks made by a couple of his Senate colleagues – who happen to be Democratic presidential candidates. Tuesday, Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C. called the administration's postwar policy "confused and chaotic," while Sen. Joseph Lieberman wrote in a Boston Globe op-ed Monday: "In Iraq, shock and awe is giving way to stumble and fumble."

Quote of the Day: "He didn't help me when I needed it. But this isn't about me." Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott saying "bitterly" that he'd help President Bush get re-elected. Lott also noted that he was put at Table 742, down 741 tables from last year's big GOP fundraiser. (Washington Post)

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