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Washington Wrap

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

Online Brouhaha: Dick Gephardt's campaign says a recent e-mail sent out by organizers of the upcoming online "primary" smells like vote-rigging on behalf of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.

The AP reports that the Gephardt camp was surprised when their supporters who registered to vote on received a pro-Dean e-mail from MoveOn. Gephardt considered pulling out of the electronic straw poll, but decided to remain with "reservations."

"We are not going to change our participation at this point, but we are concerned that the process seems to be rigged," Gephardt spokesman Erick Smith told the AP. "We think there is a legitimate role for MoveOn to organize grassroots supports for candidates, but we are worried that it appears they are playing favorites."

MoveOn's founder, Wes Boyd, says the Gephardt campaign is jumping to conclusions about the Dean e-mail, which was sent on Wednesday. Boyd says e-mails written by the top three finishers in a pre-primary poll the organization conducted last month were forwarded to MoveOn members. In addition to Dean, e-mails encouraging members to vote for John Kerry were sent out Thursday and an e-mail from Dennis Kucinich was to be sent on Friday.

The six bottom finishers in the preliminary poll have written letters and answered questions from MoveOn, but their responses were only posted on the Web site, not e-mailed to members. Boyd said all nine campaigns knew that only the top three finishers in the initial poll would have their pitches forwarded to MoveOn members.

"You want to give everyone a soapbox, but different size soapboxes in a sense," he told the AP.

Another bone of contention stems from work that MoveOn employee Zack Exley did for the Dean campaign. Exley took a two-week leave of absence to help Dean develop his Web site. Boyd said Exley's work for Dean is not an indicator that the group is supporting a particular candidate. He added that he'll be happy to dispatch Exley to the other campaigns, if they want.

The Dean campaign responded to the Gephardt campaign's accusations on Thursday. "To question the integrity of MoveOn and its 1.4 million members is outrageous and only serves to further erode the American people's belief that their voices matter," Dean said in a statement. "People in Washington wonder why so many have been turning away from the political process. This type of baseless accusation only gives them one more reason to tune out."

Voting begins on June 24 and lasts for 48 hours. If a candidate gets 50.1 percent of the MoveOn members' votes, he or she will get the group's endorsement. If none of the candidates reaches the majority threshold – and even Dean's campaign is playing down the chances of that happening – the group will hold another "primary" in several months.

Four Down, One To Go: Following the lead of three fellow California Democrats, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante has stepped out of the recall election for governor. The Republican-led recall challenges the 2002 election of Democrat Gray Davis as California governor. According to the AP, Bustamante cited concerns over costs to voters and said that he would not take part in any way other than to "urge voters to reject this expensive perversion of the recall process."

With organizers saying they now have close to 900,000 signatures (they're aiming for 1.2 million to make sure they get the 897,000 required by Sept. 2 to put the proposal on the ballot), the possibility of a recall election seems more likely than ever. Should the recall occur, Davis may face a tough battle. With his approval ratings dipping into the 20s, California's declining economy and rising electricity problems are sure to be defining obstacles for the governor.

Attempting to overcome all this, Davis has called for a united Democratic front. With fewer Democrats running against Davis, his chances of winning increase significantly. However, there remains one key Democrat yet to pull her name off of the list. Popular Sen. Dianne Feinstein has not made a categorical statement about her intentions. Although Feinstein has criticized the recall in the past, stating that the effort was ill advised and expensive to voters, she has yet to rule out the possibility of running.

It Won't Buy A House In Chappaqua: Not all political books are created equal. Hillary Clinton hit the jackpot with her $8 million advance for Living History. But North Carolina Sen. John Edwards reaped a mere $7,500 advance on his forthcoming book from the same publisher, Simon & Schuster, according to the Raleigh News and Observer, which found it on Edwards' financial disclosure form.

"Clearly he's not doing this for the money," Edwards spokesperson Jennifer Palmieri told the paper. He doesn't have to. The rest of the disclosure form indicates that the former trial lawyer has holdings in a blind trust of $5-25 million and a money market fund worthn $1-5 million.

The money from the book, which will be published this fall in the midst of the presidential primary campaign, will be donated to the Wade Edwards Foundation, which is named for the senator's son who died in a car accident.

The Incredible Senator Hulk: Some may think it's odd that 79-year-old Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, would show up once in a while sporting an "Incredible Hulk" necktie on the Senate floor. Marvel Comics, however, smelled a PR move and decided to throw a Capitol Hill bash with Stevens to plug the release of the new "Hulk" movie.

Stevens, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has taken to wearing the Hulk tie - given to him by his daughter - when working on difficult spending bills, highlighting his gruff, tough-guy attitude.

"I think I am the Hulk, anyway," he declared at Thursday's reception.

The festivities were held in the U.S. Capitol just across from the Senate floor and featured someone in a Hulk suit (who simply walked into the room, as opposed to crashing through a historic Capitol wall), Stevens in his necktie, as well as a lot of green food: veggie platters with broccoli, asparagus and celery; fruit platters with kiwi, grapes and melon slices; bowls of hulk-sized green tortilla chips and guacamole; salmon encrusted in something green; and tuna salad wrapped in spinach tortillas.

Among those who stopped by to meet the Hulk and chat with Stevens was the real hulk of the Senate, Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. Also showing up were Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont; James Jeffords, I-Vermont; and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., among others. Interestingly, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson made a brief appearance to meet the monster, perhaps to check if Hulk wanted a smallpox shot.

Stevens was presented with a couple of Hulk-related items because, said Marvel Comics president of publishing Bill Jemas, "sometimes the Hulk tie is not enough." Stevens countered, "so far it's worked!" Stevens was also given a Hulk mask, which he promptly tried on, as well as an original Hulk comic book cover featuring the senator's head on the Hulk's body.

Stevens was all smiles during the reception saying, "This is all about fun… and it's time to have a good time in the Senate, believe me."

Weekend Plans: Some of the Democratic presidential candidates will be seeing a lot of each other this weekend, with three candidate forums on the calendar. On Saturday, the Jasper County Democrats – that would be Jasper County, Iowa – host Howard Dean, John Edwards, Dick Gephardt, Bob Graham John Kerry, Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton in Newton. On Sunday, in Chicago, Rev. Jesse Jackson - 16 years removed from his last presidential bid - will moderate a forum sponsored by his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. Eight of the nine candidates – all but Edwards – will be there.

The Association of State Democratic Chairs Presidential Forum turned into a bit of a bust on Friday because of pesky Senate duties. Kerry and Lieberman had planned to attend, but had to take part via video because of possible Senate votes. Gephardt will also address the group from D.C. via videoconference. But the state chairs got to see Dean, Sharpton and Kucinich in person.

Carol Moseley Braun is only attending the Jackson/PUSH event in her hometown of Chicago.

Of course, a schedule look-ahead would be incomplete with mentioning Gephardt's Tuesday fundraiser in New York headlined by none other than the one, the only … Barry Manilow. There's also John Kerry's Heartland moment on Sunday morning with that other crooner, Sen. Tom Harkin, in Mason City. On Monday, Howard Dean, who many think has been running for president for a couple of years, will make his OFFICIAL announcement in Burlington.

Sen. George Allen of Virginia, head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe will square off on CBS News' "Face The Nation" on Sunday.

Quote of the Day: "Maple Powered Howard" – The name of a new Ben & Jerry's ice cream concoction honoring presidential hopeful Howard Dean. The vanilla ice cream topped with maple syrup, whip cream and walnuts will be available only on Monday at select stores in Vermont to kick off the former governor's campaign.