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Washington Wrap

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

Honeymoon's Over: Retired Gen. Wesley Clark's fast rise in the polls has, let us say, been noticed by the other 2004 campaigns.

For example, the RNC sent out a press release in their "They Said It" series alerting the media to a story in the Los Altos (Calif.) Town Crier reporting that retired Gen. H. Hugh Shelton was asked what he thought of Clark and whether he would support him as a candidate. Taking a drink of water before responding, Shelton said, "That question makes me wish it were vodka. I've known Wes for a long time. I will tell you the reason he came out of Europe early had to do with integrity and character issues, things that are very near and dear to my heart. I'm not going to say whether I'm a Republican or a Democrat. I'll just say Wes won't get my vote."

Howard Dean had some words to say about the general as well, helpfully sent around by the Kerry campaign. Kerry's release cited Dean's statement in the past few days to the AP that he wouldn't attack Clark. "I've been there and done that myself, so I'm certainly not going to criticize him. I think one of the baptisms you get when you become a candidate is you get a lot of hard questions and he's certainly having his share," Dean said. But Dean then told The New York Times that he "was shocked" by Gen. Clark's initial comment on the Iraq resolution. "I was even more shocked that he switched the next day," he added.

Dean may have reversed himself on withholding criticism because Clark is a threat not only to Dean's front-runner status, but also to his Internet fund-raising dominance. Dean's goal of raising $5 million in the last ten days of September is lagging a bit. As of Wednesday morning, he's raised $846,241.12 - not even enough to fill one bat. If Dean were on pace to reach his goal, the campaign should have raised roughly $1.7 million by now.

Dick Gephardt also chimed in on Clark during a Wednesday conference call with reporters. "If you're looking for the flavor of the month or a fresh face, I'm not the guy. If you're looking for experience ... then I may be your candidate," Gephardt said.

Solidarity Cracks: Sen. John Kerry snagged the endorsement of the International Association of Fire Fighters today, the first national union to back someone other than Rep. Dick Gephardt.

According to the AP, union president Harold Schaitberger said the 214,000-member union chose Kerry over the others because its members like his record as a decorated Vietnam veteran, his political experience, his sense of humor and his interest in sports and Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

Schaitberger added that newcomer Wesley Clark, who he met with a couple of weeks ago, didn't make the cut mainly because he feels Clark is a political novice.

"You've got to know how to navigate and operate in Washington, D.C. to be a good president and to be an effective executive," he said. "I question Wesley Clark's experience, and John Kerry clearly has that experience."

Meantime, Gephardt picked up his 14th union endorsement today in Chicago, grabbing the support of the 800,000-member Laborers International Union of North America.

"This is an individual that for the last 27 years has fought day in and day out for all working men and women," union president Terry O'Sullivan said.

Howard Dean got some labor support, too, receiving some financial help – but not an endorsement – from New York's Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union. Union president Dennis Rivera held a fund-raiser that brought in $30,000 for Dean last night.

While Rivera told the 100 members in attendance that he has "been incredibly impressed with" Dean, Rivera's top political adviser Jennifer Cunningham told the AP: "We're not anywhere near an endorsement."

The national SEIU has also said it's too early for an endorsement, as has the nation's second-biggest union, AFSCME, and its president, Gerald McEntee, despite making some early noises about liking both Kerry and Clark.

The AFL-CIO was expected to have a general board meeting to discuss its endorsement in mid-October but it's unclear if President John Sweeney will hold that meeting, and if so, what will happen. In order to receive an endorsement, a candidate must receive the support of two-thirds of the AFL-CIO's 13 million members.

Hart's Out … Or Is He?: For the time being, it sounds like former senator and presidential candidate Gary Hart won't be running against incumbent Republican Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell next year, the Rocky Mountain News reports. Hart said on CNN that he's "deferring" to Rep. Mark Udall in the Senate race, although Udall has not yet made a final decision on running.

But when asked if he'd "rule out" running against Campbell, Hart replied - in the same Delphic manner he used while flirting with a 2004 presidential run – "I've not ruled it in."

The Rocky Mountain News reports that Hart, through a staffer, refused to clarify his remarks on CNN.

Udall has been reluctant thus far to throw his hat in the ring against Campbell despite encouragement from the national party, including Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Sen. Jon Corzine.

Udall's spokesman, Lawrence Pacheco, said, "His intention has been to run for re-election to the House, but he hasn't ruled out the Senate race … There are many people in Colorado who have urged him to take a harder look at running for the Senate."

A poll taken for Campbell last week showed the senator beating Udall and Hart by the exact same margin, 55 percent to 36 percent. Former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb had similar numbers in the survey, with Campbell beating him 57 percent to 33 percent.

Debate Criteria: The Commission on Presidential Debates released its criteria for participation in the 2004 presidential debates on Tuesday. Like in 2000, candidates will be required to have an average of 15 percent support in five major national polls in order to appear in the debates. In addition, to participate, the candidate's name must appear on enough state ballots to have a mathematical chance of winning an Electoral College majority.

The commission will announce the dates and locations of the debates in November. Janet Brown, the commission's executive director, said she anticipates that, as in 2000, there will be four debates this cycle.

The commission is a nonpartisan group set up in 1987 as an impartial sponsor of the debates. In previous presidential election, critics have said the commission has set an impossibly high bar for participation, effectively leaving any third party candidates out of some of the most crucial events of the campaign. In particular, critics have complained that the commission – co-chaired by former chairmen of the Republican and Democratic parties – perpetuates the two-party system in setting its standards.

The commission argues that the 15 percent threshold keeps the debates organized and substantive, especially in light of the fact that several hundred people file papers every four years to run for president.

But with the Reform Party and Green Party yet to put forward candidates for 2004, the protests from the 2000 election could be far less dramatic this time around. But we suspect that so long as there's a breath in Ralph Nader's body, the potential for fireworks still exists.

Debate du Jour: The California Broadcasters Association debate is the first and only forum with Arnold Schwarzenegger participating. Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock, Independent Arianna Huffington and Green Party candidate Peter Camejo will also be on stage. Candidates were given the questions last week. Their answers will be carried tonight on C-Span at 9 p.m. EDT.

Quote of the Day: "It's all my colleagues talk about, is what a Gong Show we are in California. All over the country, it's hurting our reputation and we need to get it over with." - California Attorney General Bill Lockyer (AP)