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Washington Wrap

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

League of Civilized Candidates: Five of the nine Democratic presidential candidates attended a forum on Thursday night organized by the League of Conservation Voters in Los Angeles, with each touting his or her environmental credentials while attacking President Bush at the same time. In marked contrast to many of the previous candidate forums thus far in Campaign 2004, the attendees managed to not attack one another.

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois, former Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont and Rev. Al Sharpton traveled to UCLA for the event, which was held on the eve of a fundraising trip by Bush to the state that is expected to net him about $6 million at two events in San Francisco and LA. (Sen. Bob Graham of Florida was scheduled to attend but had to cancel to vote on the Senate Medicare bill - a piece of legislation a Florida lawmaker does not miss.)

The AP reports that the candidates discussed global warming, ethanol, genetically modified foods, and auto emissions, among other topics.

Kerry – who, the LA Times reports, arrived at the event in an environmentally-friendly electric car (perhaps the Pander 2004 model?) – said U.S. dependence on foreign energy sources puts the country at risk.

"We need to begin, for the sake of our own future, to liberate any young serviceman from ever being held hostage to our dependency on Middle East oil," Kerry said. "I do that by striking out for independence. That's the national security issue. I'm sorry this president doesn't see it."

Lieberman called the Bush administration "the most unfriendly … in our history."

Dean, who's gained a reputation at these forums as a bit of a bomb-thrower toward his fellow candidates, managed to stay focused on the Bush administration. He said the most effective way to keep environmental issues on the front political burner was to "connect people with the consequences" of hazards like global warming, mercury in fish and coal-burning plant pollution.

The candidates also discussed last week's report that the White House heavily edited a section of an EPA report that included a warning on global warming. Lieberman called the editing "more typical of the Soviet Union that of the United States." Kerry called the editing "disgraceful" and said he planned to speak to the EPA inspector general about whether the acted White House improperly.

The League of Conservation Voters, however, won't leave the Bush-bashing to the presidential candidates. The LCV is airing a new television spot in LA and Washington on Friday that accuses the administration of allowing corporate interests to trump environmental issue. The ad, running the same day the president is in the state, says "Bush will leave L.A., and leave us the worst environmental record in history."

Hispanics Flex Their Political Muscle: Hispanics, now the largest minority population in the nation, plan to use their influence in the next election, starting this weekend with the first ever "Latino Political Convention" that will span three days and include two presidential forums. Close to a thousand Hispanic leaders, most of the Democratic presidential candidates and the White House will participate in the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) convention in Phoenix Arizona.

NALEO is a nonprofit and officially nonpartisan group, but the tone of the conference is sure to be political. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., and Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., will join the conference today via satellite, unable to leave Washington because of voting on new Medicare reform legislation. Then, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, whose name is on the short list for a possible Supreme Court nomination should one of the justices retire, will deliver a keynote address. On Saturday, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., John Edwards, D-NC, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., and Rev. Al Sharpton will take part in a presidential forum.

The Hispanic population, now 38.8 million strong, could play a major role in Democratic success in the 2004 election if the candidates play their cards right, according to the Hispanic Voter Project. 'Hispanic Tuesday,' or Feb. 3, will mark the first time that two states with significant Hispanic populations - Arizona has 25.3 percent and New Mexico has 42.1 percent – will hold early presidential primaries.

"It is going to be a historic opportunity because of the dramatic population growth in states having early primaries with significant Hispanic populations," House Democratic Caucus Chairman and New Jersey Congressman Bob Menendez told the Hispanic Voter Project.

The Mouth of the Young Dems: Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., son of Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and no stranger to controversy, has stepped into the gossip pages again.

The Washington Post reports that Kennedy, while delivering a speech to a group of Young Democrats, was a tad more candid than his staff might have liked.

"I don't need Bush's tax cut. I have never worked a [bleeping] day in my life," Kennedy said shortly after presidential candidate Howard Dean addressed the crowd. One of those present told the Post that Kennedy then "droned on and on, frequently mentioning how much better the [Democratic presidential] candidates would sound the more we drank." The source added that he eventually "had to be stopped by a DNC volunteer."

Kennedy's office explained to CBS News that the tax cut comment was a self-deprecating joke that fell flat; he was calling attention to the fact that his detractors criticize him for never working a day in his life.

His spokesman, Ernesto Anguilla, told the Post: "He was energizing the crowd and got caught up in it and used an unfortunate word, which he regrets using. … And no one pulled him off the stage."

Kennedy's cussing is the latest in a series of recent embarrassing events for the five-term congressman. In 2002, he was questioned by political observers after calling a radio talk show that featured his Republican opponent. The Providence Journal reported that Kennedy "shouted at" the candidate even though the Republican was "a political newcomer who has relatively little campaign money."

He also made headlines in August of 2000 when a distraught female friend had the Coast Guard rescue her from Kennedy's chartered yacht after she called a friend and said she was frightened. The charter company later accused Kennedy of trashing the boat.

And in March 2000, Kennedy was caught on videotape shoving a security guard at Los Angeles Airport. The security guard sued and eventually Kennedy settled out of court, admitted he "acted rudely" and apologized.

Some Little Old Funders Near Pasadena: It is almost the end of the second quarter of presidential fund raising and the candidates are desperately trying to find new ways of increasing their totals. According to the Raleigh News & Observer, Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., has employed the talents of the Beach Boys to help him. On Monday, the aging rockers will entertain at a backyard fundraiser for Edwards in Los Angeles.

The fun, fun, fun approach to the 2004 WH race is not, however, favored by all involved. Vice President Dick Cheney sent out a very business-like e-mail on Thursday appealing for grass roots support for the Bush re-election campaign which many feel now will exceed the $20 million they've been leaking.

Cheney cited the need for George W. Bush to focus his attention on "fighting the war on terrorism, continuing to strengthen our economy, reforming education, and working for Medicare reform and prescription drugs for our seniors" as reasons why grassroots support was particularly needed at this time. He didn't get into that fact that President Bush is in California himself today picking up about $6 million for the cause.

Political Bona Fides: Perhaps, it's not the usual campaign credential but New Jersey State Senate candidate Jim Morrison isn't the least bit shy about winning the "Prettiest Penis Contest." Twice.

While attending Cake, a New York bar, in 1996 Morrison and friends entered the contest. Contestants were asked to follow the host, Justin Bond, back stage where Polaroids were taken. The Polaroids were then hung for the audience to see and vote.

Although Morrison may be proud of his accomplishment, critics are crying foul. According to the AP, the Sussex Democratic officials have attempted to discourage Morrison from running, but the 32-year old lawyer says he's in it to stay. Sussex Democratic Party Chairman Charles Cart is concerned that Morrison does not reflect the conservative community's values. Morrison was confident that his image and past experience would not negatively impact the party.

Morrison, who was a runner-up to ABC's "The Mole" and named one of People magazine's "50 Most Eligible Bachelors" in 2001, is proud of winning and said, "I don't shy away or back away from who I am, because I think that's the kind of people voters want."

For those who have to see it to believe it, Polaroids are still available. Ask Justin Bond.

Quote of the Day: "Senator Thurmond was symbolic of the Old South, but his willingness to change over time set an example for many South Carolinians." -- African American U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C. (AP)