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Washington Wrap

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

The War Over The War Goes On: The fighting in Iraq may be finished, but the political sniping and maneuvering over the war continues on the home front.

Monday, President Bush traveled to Dearborn, Mich., to tout the success of the war against Iraq and the resulting potential for spreading democracy through the Arab world. Dearborn, home to many Iraqi exiles, is one of the most heavily Arab communities in the nation, with 30 percent of its citizens describing themselves as Arab in the 2000 Census.

Michigan, which Mr. Bush lost to Al Gore in 2000, has 17 electoral votes and is predicted to be one of the key "swing" states again in 2004. The trip is Mr. Bush's ninth visit to the state as president.

In New Hampshire over the weekend, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards was peppered by questions from voters on his Iraq stance. Edwards - who backed the war and voted in favor of the October Senate resolution giving Mr. Bush the right to use force - was asked almost nonstop about his position on the war at every stop in the Granite State, reports's James Pindell.

Pindell reports that Edwards faced tougher questioning on the war than his fellow hawks Dick Gephardt and Joe Lieberman, both of whom also backed the president on Iraq. Pindell attributes voters' focus on the war to the fact that Edwards has visited the state less than a half-dozen times in 2003, and "few have heard his answer here."

A new poll in his home state shows Edwards getting trounced by the president in a potential 2004 match-up. The Research 2000 poll, conducted for the Raleigh News and Observer, showed the president beating Edwards 58 percent to 39 percent. The poll also asked voters their preference in the state's Democratic primary. Edwards came out on top with 43 percent - down from 51 percent in January – followed by John Kerry at 23 percent. The rest of the Democratic field was in the single digits.

The ongoing John Kerry vs. Howard Dean spat continued Monday. Kerry's communications director, Chris Lehane, sent out a statement reacting to comments made by Dean two weeks ago in New Hampshire in which the former Vermont governor said the U.S. needs to re-focus on diplomacy because, "We won't always have the strongest military."

Lehane, not one to let an opening like that pass him by, used the Time magazine quote to question Dean's ability to be commander in chief. Lehane said of Dean's statement: "No serious candidate for the presidency has ever before suggested that he would compromise or tolerate an erosion of America's military supremacy."

Hee-Haw Comes to Rushmore: Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle is the only announced candidate in the 2004 South Dakota Senate race, but the Argus Leader reports that a Sioux Falls group is organizing an expensive ad campaign to challenge the Democrat's hope for re-election.

The Daschle Accountability Project, organized by Robert Regier and Paul Erickson, plans to raise more than $800,000 for a series of cartoons that attack Daschle's credibility with an element of humor. The ads will star two simple guys, Del and Hurley, who criticize Daschle from a small-town barbershop setting. Organizers told possible contributors that the approach defines Daschle with a "low key, Hee-Haw-like rural tone."

The ads attack Daschle's record, including his opposition to President Bush's tax cuts. "Why are people interested in defeating Daschle? He is an obscenity, an embarrassment to the state, and ending Daschle's career would be a political act of hygiene. Our president deserves better. Our state deserves better," Erickson said.

The early ad campaign might predict another intensely close election in South Dakota. Last year, Republican Rep. John Thune lost the Senate race race by only 524 votes to Democratic incumbent Tim Johnson. Republicans are hoping Thune will run against Daschle, although he hasn't made a final decision and these ads are an attempt to make the race more attractive for him.

But Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, considers the possibility that the negative advertisements might backfire.

"So the entire Republican apparatus is geared up to soften Daschle up for Thune," Sabato told the Argus Leader. "The risk is that it goes against what usually works for politicians in South Dakota." South Dakotans are wary of politics and like to size-up candidates for themselves.

Sex and Civility: Last week's calls for the ouster of Republican Sen. Rick Santorum from the GOP leadership after his remarks linking homosexual acts to polygamy, bigamy and incest seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist defended Santorum, and, on Friday, Ari Fleischer said President Bush thought Santorum was an "inclusive man." Conservatives have started alleging a political motive behind the story. Late last week, Robert Novak reported that the AP reporter who interviewed Santorum, Laura Jakes Jordan, is married to Jim Jordan, campaign manager for Sen. John Kerry's Democratic presidential campaign.

"Jordan herself is pretty suspect," said Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga. Howie Kurtz in the Washington Post reports that "Jim Jordan says he didn't know 'with any specificity' what Santorum had told his wife and (said) that Kerry was one of several Democrats who issued statements at the request of the Hotline political digest. "Even by the usual standards of the right-wing attack machine," Jim Jordan said, "this is just stupid, vicious and sexist."

Democratic candidates, meanwhile, were generally hitting home runs on the gay-rights groups scorecards. Howard Dean, who signed legislation legalizing civil unions for same sex couples in Vermont, has been working the gay and lesbian activist network heavily during the early phases of the campaign. Six of the nine Democratic presidential candidates - Gephardt, Kerry, Braun, Kucinich, Sharpton and Dean - support civil unions.

While the other three Democratic candidates - Lieberman, Edwards and Graham - "stopped short of endorsing them," none has opposed them. Lieberman and Edwards say this should be left up to individual states, and Graham said that the issue "needs more study."

All nine Democrats support benefits for domestic partners, while President Bush opposes them. Civil unions are controversial among the public, with Democrats generally supportive and Republicans opposed. Republican pollster Whit Ayres told the Boston Globe that favoring civil unions could hurt a Democratic candidate in the general election. "The dividing line between the blue states and the red states was primarily a cultural dividing line rather than an economic one. The whole issue of civil unions reinforces the differences between the parties. It seals the deal in the South" for the Republicans, Ayres said

Political Week Ahead:

Mon. 4/28 – President Bush travels to Dearborn, Mich.

Mon. 4/28 – The Reverend Al Sharpton files a statement of candidacy with
the Federal Election Commission.

Mon. 4/28-4/29 – Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., visits with Gov. Tom Vilsack and other Iowa Democratic activists.

Mon. 4/28 – Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean speaks to the California League of Conservation Voters in the Environmental Leadership Forum; later, in Hollywood, Dean attends a supporter event.

Mon. 4/28 – Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., raises money in New York City.

Mon. 4/28 – Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, campaigns in Albuquerque, N.M.

Mon. 4/28 – Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., raises money in Little Rock and

Tues. 4/29 – Kerry raises money in Birmingham and attends the Alabama Democratic Party's Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Montgomery.

Tues. 4/29 – Lieberman raises money in Atlanta.

Tues. 4/29 – Dean in San Francisco for a supporter event.

Wed. 4/30 – Dean in New York City.

Fri. 5/2 – President Bush travels to San Diego and Santa Clara, Calif.

Fri. 5/2 – South Carolina Democratic Party annual meeting in Columbia begins. Rep. James Clyburn's has annual fish fry, and the party holds its Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, keynoted by Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.

Sat. 5/3 - South Carolina Democratic Party annual meeting in Columbia continues. Speeches by presidential candidates during the day and candidates' debate in the evening.

Mon. 5/5 – Sharpton in Davenport, Iowa, for the Iowa State Association of Letter Carriers.

Tues. 5/6 – Graham officially announces his White House 'O4 candidacy.

Wed. 5/7-5/8 – Graham campaigns in New Hampshire.

Thurs. 5/8 – Sharpton speaks at Washington and Lee University in
Lexington, Va., as part of the spring kickoff for the university's 2004 Democratic Mock Convention.

Fri. 5/9-5/10 – Graham campaigns in Iowa.

Quote of the Day: "Rent only a Lincoln Town Car, tune the radio to smooth jazz or classical music and set the volume low, and keep an eye out for a Starbucks coffee shop or Barnes & Noble bookstore." - From the list of "do's and don'ts" for EPA agents who drive EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman (AP)

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