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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.

Dean Goes On The Offensive: Howard Dean's rivals are crying foul about two new ads the former Vermont governor released this week in Iowa and New Hampshire. Up until now, criticizing President Bush has been fair game among the Democratic candidates, but Dean's new ads are the first to criticize fellow Democrats.

Although the campaign claims the ads are merely an attempt to clarify Dean's record, they appear to go after his two biggest rivals in Iowa and New Hampshire: Dick Gephardt and John Kerry.

In the Iowa spot, which started airing Tuesday, Dean talks about soaring prescription drug costs for seniors and makes an obvious reference to Gephardt, who has consistently gone after Dean for making comments Gephardt says are similar to Newt Gingrich in 1995. "But instead of fixing the problem, the best my opponents can do is talk about what was said eight years ago," Dean says in the ad. "For years the politicians in Washington have talked about health insurance and a prescription drug benefit. And all you got was talk."

In the New Hampshire and Boston spot, which went up on Wednesday, Dean focuses on the issue that has gained him most of his support, his opposition to the war in Iraq. In an apparent reference to Kerry, Dean says, "The best my opponents can do is ask questions today, that they should have asked before they supported the war." He continues: "I opposed the war from the start because I want a foreign policy consistent with American values and I want to reclaim our rights and our liberties that were taken away in the name of patriotism."

Both the Gephardt and Kerry campaigns were quick to respond. With the headline, "DEAN GOES NEGATIVE," Kerry's campaign sent out an e-mail quoting Dean, who once said, "We need to remember that the enemy here is George Bush, not each other," before handily sending scripts of the two ads, which clearly attack someone other than the president. As for Gephardt, he too must have felt like a target in the prescription drug ad and sent out a response that praised his record on health care while criticizing Dean's record on Medicare.

In response to opposition complaints, the Dean campaign told CBS News, "We're not going to buy crocodile tears from candidates without a record."

The two ads will run for a week to 10 days.

Union Clues? SEIU Raises The Stakes: Upping the ante for Campaign 2004, the members of New York's 1199/SEIU health care union are launching a $35 million campaign "to drive George W. Bush out of the White House next year," reports the New York Daily News. And while the SEIU parent union will not vote on an endorsement until Nov. 6, a meeting in Baltimore meeting provided a glimpse into 1199's thinking: Presidential candidate Howard Dean headlined the event and was greeted with huge cheers.

An important player in the union political world, 1199/SEIU was a major force in the election of Gov. George Pataki, R-N.Y., in 2002, and now appears to be setting its sights on the presidential race. The Daily News reports that at the meeting in Baltimore, the union unveiled a 1,000-person strong effort, with members fanning out far beyond the New York area to battleground states including Florida, Michigan, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Following their meeting with the candidates last month, SEIU National President Andy Stern said Howard Dean, Dick Gephardt, John Edwards and Al Sharpton all impressed the delegates and that John Kerry had done well in earlier polls and focus groups. In the statement following the September meeting, Stern commented on all the candidates, noting in particular that "Many members came to this conference enthusiastically supporting Howard Dean. And after hearing him – and the other seven candidates who attended – speak on Monday, their enthusiasm is unabated."

Dean forces have been expecting an endorsement when the union meets on Nov. 6, but union officials were annoyed that the Dean campaign leaked the fact that he will get the nod. In fact, there is a lot of support inside the union — especially among African American officials - for Gephardt and Sharpton. Dean told the group in September that they have what he needs —minority workers and voters. Officials told CBS News that his blunt declaration impressed the organizers who are used to tough talk.

So while 1199/SEIU is not quite ready to make an announcement, it appears to be gearing up to make a lot noise in the presidential race, quite possibly in favor of Howard Dean.

Florida Boycott Is On: The Florida Democratic straw poll saga took another turn Wednesday when all nine presidential candidates finally agreed to a boycott.

In a letter signed by the candidates to Florida Democratic Party chairman Scott Maddox, Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe wrote, "Our campaigns have chosen not to participate in straw polls during the 2004 nominating process in any state," reports the Palm Beach Post.

"We urge you not to organize, or conduct, a straw poll at your December 5-7 State Party Convention in Lake Buena Vista, as it would violate National Party rules," McAuliffe continues. "Should a decision be made to hold a straw poll, it would make it impossible for us to attend the state convention and any potential straw poll therefore would not be competitive."

Florida Democratic Party chairman Scott Maddox said skipping Florida could be risky, reports the Miami Herald.

"Do you really think the presidential candidates are going to ignore Florida?" asked Maddox. "Any candidates who ignore Florida do so at their own peril."

Some of the candidates feared that a straw poll would benefit Howard Dean, considering past straw polls put Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton on the map, in 1975 and 1991, respectively. The DNC felt a straw poll would also drain money from the candidates, who have competitive primaries to worry about in early 2004.

Interestingly, Dean wound up signing the letter a week after he sent an e-mail to his supporters in Florida urging them to gear up for the straw poll. But Wednesday, his campaign stressed it's behind the boycott.

"We want to come to the convention, and we don't want the straw poll to be an issue," Dean spokeswoman Tricia Enright said.

Kids These Days: A new study released by Harvard University's Institute of Politics suggests that today's political youth are more engaged and more conservative than in generations past.

The poll of 1,202 college students nationwide shows that over 90 percent disagree with the statement, "It doesn't matter who the president is," and that two-thirds believe political involvement "can have tangible results, up 17 percent from a similar poll in 2000." As Dan Glickman, director of the Institute of Politics, told CBS News, "the engagement numbers have been rising since 9/11."

The poll also shows students are more conservative than in the past and are generally supportive of President Bush; 31 percent identify themselves as Republicans, compared to 27 percent who identify as Democrats. College students are more likely to approve of the president's job performance than the general public, with 61 percent giving Mr. Bush good marks – 10 percent higher than the nationwide figure. Calling that statistic "surprising," Glickman, agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration, still believes that Republicans can't take college student support for granted. He points out that college students disapprove of Mr. Bush's handling of the war and "over 70 percent of students believe it will be hard to find a job" when they graduate.

Indeed, Glickman concludes that they poll should "serve as a warning shot to both parties." The poll shows that college students are highly independent; 38 percent identify themselves as either independent or unaffiliated. "These students are up for grabs," he said.

The Un-Primary: Washington, D.C.'s non-binding "beauty contest" Democratic primary on Jan. 13 is drawing mixed reactions from the party's presidential candidates.

The D.C. City Council set the primary date on Jan. 13, in violation of the DNC's rules guaranteeing the first-in-the-nation status of Iowa and New Hampshire, to highlight the contentious D.C. statehood issue. But the DNC has set its own party caucuses on Feb. 10 that will actually determine who gets the district's delegates.

The DNC, which was not amused at the City Council's grandstanding, claims it's staying out of the Jan. 13 vs. Feb. 10 conflict. "We're not trying to direct the campaigns," DNC spokesman Tony Welch told the Washington Post. "It's up to them." But because of the split, the presidential candidates are left in the middle.

The Post reports that Howard Dean has been the most active in D.C., campaigning at "high schools and union halls, lining up the support of most of the council members." Among the members who have endorsed Dean are Jack Evans, Jim Graham, Kathleen Paterson, Sharon Ambrose, Adrian Fenty and Vincent Orange.

Sen. John Edwards said in July that he'd be taking part, but since then has only held three campaign events in the city and all were fund-raising events.

Sen. John Kerry has been dispatching volunteers to ward meetings and the like, but when asked which of the two election dates Edwards was focusing on, a spokesman said, "The senator intends – and let me say this very carefully – to campaign in D.C. He intends to campaign for delegates," meaning the Feb. 10 event.

Sen. Joe Lieberman's campaign is more direct in its assessment of the January event. "Let me put my foot in my mouth now, our answer is that given there are no actual delegates, we will likely focus our concerted efforts on the February caucus. However, Sen. Lieberman understands the January contest is being held in part to highlight an issue he's long cared about, namely full representation for the district. And he will continue to fight for that."

Quote of the Day: "I know Nancy and Ron know where they're going to be buried ... Do you know where you and George? ... Do you think about dying? ... Cancer, pain, long-time suffering? ... You've had a number of operations, two hip replacements, five operations on your feet, two back operations. You have Graves Disease. ... How's your current state?" -- Larry King, to Barbara Bush (CNN, Courtesy of Wake-Up Call!)