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Washington Wrap

Dotty Lynch and Douglas Kiker of The CBS News Political Unit have the latest from the nation's capital.



'04 Senate: The Miami Herald reports that Rep. Katherine Harris, R-Fla., is considering running for the U.S. Senate next year in a race that already has two Republican contenders.

"Those who are advising me in Washington tell me never close the door on anything. So I would never say never," Harris said.

The Herald reports that there is concern among White House political advisers that the two declared GOP candidates, former Rep. Bill McCollum and current Rep. Mark Foley, won't be strong candidates. HUD Secretary Mel Martinez, former Orlando chief executive, decided against running for the seat despite White House entreaties.

Asked by the Herald if she'd been receiving encouragement from the White House, the former Florida Secretary of State demurred. "I don't want to go there," she said.

The Senate seat is currently held by Democrat Bob Graham, a candidate for the party's presidential nomination. Graham, who won re-election in a landslide in 1998, has not entirely ruled out running again in 2004, but he's been telling other Democrats to start thinking about making the race.

There's also a Senate race development in Arkansas, where first-term Democrat Blanche Lincoln will be up for re-election next year. An eagle-eyed National Journal "Wake-Up Call!" noticed that Asa Hutchinson – the former congressman and current undersecretary of Homeland Security – has quietly formed a Senate campaign committee with the FEC. Hutchinson's brother, Tim, lost his U.S. Senate seat last year to Democrat Mark Pryor.

In North Carolina, Rep. Richard Burr's campaign coffers are a bit fuller after a fundraising event headlined by White House political adviser Karl Rove on Thursday night. Burr, the White House's pre-primary pick to run for the seat currently held by Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, raised $650,000 for his campaign.

Last year, the White House picked sides in several Senate races before state primaries, including in North Carolina, where President Bush visited several times to campaign for now-Sen. Elizabeth Dole.

Rove said helping their handpicked candidates is "not something we do lightly." But, Rove said, when a state's GOP congressional delegation and its state party leaders back a particular candidate with "relative unanimity" the White House will step in.

"We had that last year for Elizabeth Dole. We have it this year for Richard Burr … We don't get involved in every primary," Rove said.

Of course, a strong GOP candidate in North Carolina could force Edwards to watch his Senate flank – something that could help President Bush's own re-election efforts.

Issa's In: The Sacramento Bee reports that millionaire Republican Congressman Darrell Issa "will devote himself personally and lend financial aide to the recall campaign against California Gov. Gray Davis." Issa has also made it known that he is interested in replacing Davis as governor.

Issa was looking at the Senate race against Barbara Boxer but he said when he saw that the campaign to recall Davis was in trouble he decided to jump into that instead.

The recall organizers need 900,000 signatures by September to get it on the November ballot. So far, despite Davis' low poll ratings, only 61,287 people have signed petitions. In addition, they have raised only $200,000 of a target budget of $2 million.

"Show me the money," said former Davis strategist Gary South playing down the news. "Just because some guy like Darrell Issa comes forward and says 'I may put in some money' that's not a story."

Clinton Still Has Blair's Ear: In their inimitable breathless style, the Guardian of London reports that British Prime Minister Tony Blair received "secret" political advice from former President Clinton on the diplomatic impasse in the weeks before the war against Iraq.

The Guardian reports that the former president was a guest at Blair's country retreat, Chequers, the weekend of March 8. At the time, Blair was under tremendous political pressure because of his support for the Bush administration's hard-line stance on Iraq.

The Guardian reports that the old political pals met three times to discuss how Blair should handle the Iraq situation. Shortly after the Chequers weekend, the Guardian notes that Mr. Clinton made a "rare public appeal" to President Bush to give U.N. weapons inspectors more time – a move the paper implies was designed to help Blair politically.

Weekend Plans: The Democratic presidential candidates will be busy this weekend in some of the old familiar places. John Kerry heads to New Hampshire on Friday, with stops in Portsmouth, Durham and North Conway, where he speaks to the Carroll County Dems. John Edwards also does a Granite State hit, including hosting a Cheshire County Dems spaghetti dinner on Saturday night. Howard Dean is in Iowa all weekend, stopping off in Davenport and Clinton on Friday, Fairfield and Peosta on Saturday; and New Hampton and Charles City on Sunday. Potential candidate Gary Hart continues his college tour, speaking to students at the University of San Diego on Saturday.

There are two events on the non-presidential candidate front Saturday night. President Bush will keynote the White House Correspondents Association in Washington. In Florida, his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, will keynote the NRA annual meeting in Orlando. The meeting will be the last one presided over by Charlton Heston, who is stepping down after five years because of symptoms consistent with Alzheimer's Disease.

On Monday, Bob Graham visits Iowa for the first time since forming his presidential campaign. He'll meet with Democratic activists and with Tom Vilsack, the state's powerful Democratic governor, who last week named Dean, Edwards Gephardt and Kerry as the "first tier" Presidential candidates.

Quote of the Day: "It's clear that Mr. Gingrich is off his meds and out of therapy." –- Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage's response to comments by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich that were highly critical of the department and Secretary of State Colin Powell. (The Washington Post)

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