Washington Wrap

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

Pre-emptive Self-Defense In Iowa: The Republican National Committee has fired the first volley from the Bush side in the 2004 presidential campaign. A new 30-second ad, which will begin with a small buy of $100,000 in Iowa on Sunday, prior to Monday's Democratic debate, is an attempt to counter attacks the Democrats have leveled at President Bush and lay the groundwork for the GOP strategy of selling the policy of pre-emptive strikes.

"After 10 months, Democrats running for President have coalesced around policies that are wrong for America. They unanimously oppose the President's policy of pre-emptive self-defense. They unanimously support massive tax increases. The RNC will continue to highlight the differences between the two parties on policy after policy that will provide the American people a clear choice in the next election," said RNC chairman Ed Gillespie in a press release.

The ad, which is on the RNC's website, uses video from President Bush's State of the Union address:

BUSH: "It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known."
CHYRON: Strong and Principled Leadership
BUSH: "Our war against terror is a contest of will in which perseverance is power."
CHYRON: Some are now attacking the President for attacking the terrorists.
BUSH: "Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike?"
CHYRON: Some call for us to retreat, putting our national security in the hands of others.
CHYRON: Call Congress Now. Tell them to support the President's policy of preemptive self-defense.

The spot ends with a big picture of Gillespie taking "responsibility" for the ad, a legal and political message.

So far the Gephardt and Lieberman campaigns have issued statements attacking the ad. Gephardt acknowledged supporting the president's decision on Iraq, but questions his decision to go without our allies. "Debating national security is fair game, but questioning the other's patriotism is beneath this president." Lieberman called the ad a "cynical attempt to rescue the president's sinking poll numbers by using fear and politicizing our national security."

Franklin Roosevelt Kerry? With 59 days until the Iowa caucuses, John Kerry is attempting a relaunch of his campaign by offering a plan for his first 100 days as president. He is also beginning an all-out ad blitz, a series of 24-hour campaign days and lots of time on buses in Iowa and New Hampshire. The AP says he will pump $5 million of his own money into the campaign.

In a speech accusing President Bush of giving Americans a "raw deal" versus the "real deal" they will get from him, Kerry outlined actions he would take to curb special interests, help the middle class, restore the environment and make U.S. foreign policy more open to allies. The AP's Ron Fournier points out that the new stump speech shares similarities with Al Gore's pledge to "stay and fight," a phrase he often repeated as he rebounded against rival Bill Bradley during the 2000 primaries, as well as Dick Gephardt's motto, "It's your fight, too," which helped him win the Iowa caucuses in 1988.

Meanwhile, Teresa Heinz Kerry admitted to reporters that her husband's campaign was caught off-guard by Howard Dean's decision to opt out of public financing for the primaries and took a swipe at some of her husband's chief rivals, according to the Boston Globe. She called Dean's decision to go on the air last summer smart, but said, "It's one thing to be appealing; its another to govern." She said that Dick Gephardt is "not into foreign relations" and that "Wesley Clark knows how to make war very well; he's brilliant, but he's not a diplomat."

"I think that John having come from abroad as I did … is the one candidate that tomorrow could go to the well of the U.N." and have the respect of other nations, she said.

In Kerry Housekeeping news: Michael Meehan will return to Kerryland from NARAL. The campaign is also sending 30 to 40 new staff members to Iowa including organizing ace Michael Whouley.

Them's Fightin' Words: Wesley Clark called fellow retired Army Gen. Hugh Shelton's criticism of him a "smear" on CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman" on Thursday night.

Back in September, Shelton said that Clark had been removed from his position as NATO Supreme Commander because of "integrity and character issues." Since then, Shelton has refused to elaborate – or retract – those comments. In addition, Shelton has been advising Clark's rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.

An audience member asked Clark about his departure from the NATO command in 2000. Without mentioning Shelton by name, Clark said, "Let me underscore this: Those words, whether they were intended or not, whether they were misspoken or not, haven't been retracted and they constitute a smear and I don't appreciate it."

Clark said on CBS News "60 Minutes II" earlier this week that his fight with Shelton stems from a dispute over whether the U.S. should have intervened militarily in Kosovo's bloody civil war in the 1990s. He told CBS News' Dan Rather that his dismissal from NATO "never had anything to do with character and integrity."

Also on Thursday, Clark criticized the Bush administration for "wrecking NATO" by waging a unilateral war against Iraq and outlined his plan for working with European allies against threats from the Middle East, the New York Times and Boston Globe report. The plan would be modeled after the fight against communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in the second half of the 20th Century.

Sen. John Kerry's campaign quickly issued a press release accusing Clark of stealing its ideas. "Clark can now repackage our ideas into new sexy phrases – but the underlying need for a cooperative engagement with the rest of the international community is something that is not only not new, but championed by John Kerry over the last year on the campaign trail not to mention his entire Senate career," spokesman David Wade said in a statement.

Howard Cracks 40: Although Howard Dean turned 55 recently, 41 may be just as important a number. In this week's National Journal Democratic Insiders Poll, Dean receives 41 out of 50 fist-place votes, an all-time voting high. He picks up two votes from Dick Gephardt, who also loses one vote to Wesley Clark. This leaves the field in the same order as last week but underlines the fact that Dean has won the minds, if not the hearts, of these Democratic operative elites.

Beyond giving Dean an additional boost, the Insiders Poll also recognizes what has been another good news week for Sen. John Edwards. In the points assigned via a 1-9 rating scale, Edwards remains in fifth place, behind Dean, Gephardt and John Kerry, but he is on the move. Kerry and Clark have dropped for the past few weeks while Edwards has consistently gained. "He's the guy you would most likely want to go for a beer with," one Insider said of Edwards.

The Insiders give Clark credit for his "Meet the Press" performance and one says, "if he's really raising as much money as they claim, he's back up on my list." Assessments of Kerry continue to be harsh but "ignoring public financing gives him the chance he desperately needs to spend freely in New Hampshire."

The poll has found that Dean has exceeded expectations but Insiders say he needs to be wary now of the "inevitability" tag. "Dean has to worry about expectations inflating … If there's one thing worse than being the next McGovern, it's being the next Muskie."

Another Florida Dem Says No: Rep. Alcee Hastings will not seek fellow Democrat Bob Graham's Senate seat in Florida. The AP reports that Hastings supporters are in favor of his accepting a Senate bid, but that Hastings said he "would focus on his 23rd Congressional District seat." The AP recalls some notable moments in Hastings' political career, including his appointment as a federal judge in 1979 and his impeachment and removal by Congress in 1989. Hastings was then elected to Congress, the only impeached federal official in that body.

Graham has chosen not to pursue a fourth term and will be vacating his seat after the 2004 election. Earlier this year, he also abandoned his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Republicans are hoping to secure four Southern seats in the Senate and see Florida as a potential coup. Several Republicans have jumped into the race, including state House Speaker Johnny Byrd, conservative activists Larry Klayman, state Sen. Daniel Webster and former Rep. Bill McCollum. In the "thinking about it" column are Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez and Rep. Katherine Harris of 2000 Recall fame.

On the Democratic side, Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas, Rep. Peter Deutsch, and Betty Castor are flirting with running for the Democratic nomination.

Quote of the Day: "We have dogs that we love. We have two little horses on our ranch. So there are lots of things." -- Laura Bush, on "shared interests with the queen and the prince" (AFP).