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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.

Most Pro-Gay Presidential Field Ever: The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which has followed the gay rights records of presidential candidates since 1988, says this year's crop of Democratic hopefuls is the "most pro-gay presidential field ever."

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the group surveyed the candidates' records on issues such as hate crimes laws, benefits for gay domestic partners, financing for AIDS research and gays in the military. In addition to submitting a survey to each campaign, the group researched the candidates' voting history, writings and public statements.

Tops on the group's list of pro-gay candidates is former senator and ambassador Carol Moseley Braun, who agreed with all 11 of the issues the group identified as critical to gay rights. Only three of the nine-pack supports gay marriage: Braun, Rev. Al Sharpton and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio. All three are considered long shots in the nomination fight.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who signed the nation's first civil unions measure in 2000, was next. Dean has made a distinction between so-called civil unions and gay marriage, which he does not support.

Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri – whose gay daughter, Chrissy, announced earlier this week that she'll be working full-time for her father's campaign on gay and lesbian outreach issues – was in the middle of the pack, along with Sharpton, Kucinich, Sen. John Kerry, Sen. Joe Lieberman and Sen. John Edwards. One possible wrinkle for the Gephardt campaign could be his 1996 House vote against legalizing gay marriage.

Florida Sen. Bob Graham, who opposes allowing openly gay people to serve in the military, was last on the group's list. Matt Foreman, the group's executive director, called Graham "terrible on gay issues." Although, in a sign of how far the party has moved on gay issues, Foreman said Graham would have been "in the middle of the pack" in 1988 or 1992.

Graham did not respond to the group's survey, the AP reports. His spokesman, Jamal Simmons, says that despite some differences, Graham would be a "clear choice" over George W. Bush for the gay community. Graham supports non-discrimination for sexual orientation, HIV/AIDS research funding, hate crimes laws and extending domestic benefits to gay partners.

Foreman says Democrats should be careful taking gay voters for granted. In 2000, about one-quarter of gays voted for George W. Bush, up from 14 percent for the first President Bush in 1992. "There is some percentage of the gay vote up for grabs," he said.

Some Children Left Behind: Some lower-income families expecting a check for $400 this summer might not want to wait by the mailbox. The New York Times reports today that millions of minimum-wage families won't be the beneficiaries of an increase in the child tax credit because of a last-minute, late-night adjustment during congressional negotiations last week.

A study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that most families with incomes between $10,500 and $26,625 are exempt from the benefit.

"I don't know why they would cut that out of the bill," Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., told the Times. "These are the people who need it the most and who will spend it the most. These are the people who buy the blue jeans and the detergent and who will stimulate the economy with their spending." Lincoln was the primary sponsor of the provision; she voted against the final bill.

House Republicans blamed their Senate counterparts for the cut, saying the Senate's self-imposed mandate of a $350 billion total tax bill forced negotiators to cut somewhere. One House Republican aide told CBS News they offered a cut in dividend taxes but it was the Senate negotiators who came up with the childcare idea.

The White House, which for the past week has touted the $400 checks, confirmed the Times' story and told CBS News' Mark Knoller the president would have supported the higher child tax credit but it wasn't in the bill.

Democrats admit they've known all along that this cut was implemented, so the question remains as to why they didn't loudly complain about it sooner, considering that media coverage for the past week focused on all the benefits people were going to get from the tax cut.

A House Democratic aide told CBS News there were probably several reasons Dems didn't focus on this provision. First, Democrats were attacking the bill on the whole, saying it was bad for lower-income Americans. Second, since it was the middle of the night when this change was discovered, folks analyzing the bill may not have realized the potential political magnitude of this. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, Congress went into recess almost immediately after passing the bill, with some on the Hill assuming that no one would be listening if they spoke up.

When pressed that this in fact did turn into a big story, albeit several days after it happened, the aide admitted, "In hindsight, we probably should have focused on it more."

More Wise Talk: West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise's troubles are piling up since he announced two weeks ago that he had an affair with a state employee. Now he may have an opponent in the 2004 Democratic gubernatorial primary. Secretary of State Joe Manchin has not decided whether he will challenge Wise, but the AP reports he is expected to make an announcement Saturday.

Party leaders are urging Manchin and State Treasurer John Perdue to enter the race since Wise's affair and a weakened economy make him vulnerable in the socially conservative state. According to the AP, Manchin cancelled a poll to determine public opinion on his possible run for governor after Wise admitted to the affair. Perdue announced this winter that he would not run for governor, but now says he is undecided.

News of Wise's affair broke on May 12 when he issued a statement admitting that he was "unfaithful to [his] family." The announcement came after reports that he was implicated in a divorce case between Philip Frye and West Virginia Development Office employee Angela Mascia Frye.

Wise seems resigned to his political problems. "Democracy is a wonderful thing. I look forward to a vigorous contest with Mr. Manchin or with someone else," he said.

Quote of the Day: "There may come a time when we have elected a president at age 45 or 50 and then 20 years later the country comes up with the same sort of problems the president faced before, and the people would like to bring that man or woman back." -- Former President Bill Clinton suggesting that the 22nd Amendment be changed to prohibit only two consecutive terms. (Boston Globe)

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