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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.



First On the Air? With nine months to go before primary voters hit the polls, it looks like Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts could be prepping to be the first Democratic presidential candidate to hit the airwaves in New Hampshire. One of Kerry's rivals who has plenty of money to run ads if he decides to, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, called the rush to get on-air "a little early."

The Web site Politicsnh.com reports that during Kerry's latest Granite State visit last Friday, the candidate was wired with a microphone and was trailed by a digital camera while he campaigned at the University of New Hampshire and at the Carroll County Democrats' Grover Cleveland Dinner. Kerry spokesman Robert Gibbs said the camera and microphone were indeed the campaign's.

The ads won't be Kerry's first on-camera work for his presidential campaign. During his easy-as-pie Senate race last year, Kerry released a slickly produced autobiographical video, entitled "The Courage to Stand Up for What's Right," which looked remarkably like a presidential candidate biography film.

On Monday, Kerry picked up the endorsement of Rep. Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee. Ford, elected in 1996 at the age of 26 to fill his father's congressional seat, is considered one of the rising stars of the Democratic Party.

While raising money in Little Rock, Ark., on Monday, Kerry visited with one of his former U.S. Navy comrades, Fred Short, who shared with reporters his memories of Kerry's leadership while commanding a gunboat in the Mekong Delta during the Vietnam War. In a made-for-headlines moment, Kerry and Short embraced as Short recalled the incident for which Kerry was awarded the Silver Star for bravery and the Purple Heart.

"I'm just grateful to be here," said Short, recalling the 1969 firefight in which Kerry chased down and killed a Vietcong soldier who was about to fire his rocket-propelled grenade at their boat. "I've got two children, I think, because of his quick skills," Short said.

Kerry also praised Arkansas Democrats' favorite son, former President Clinton. He told a crowd of about 150 that he'd spoken with Mr. Clinton on Monday morning to get advice for campaigning in Arkansas. The former president, Kerry said, "in true form gave me so much advice I couldn't use any of it."

Kerry's spat with former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean over statements Dean made two weeks ago that the U.S. "won't always have the strongest military" and therefore must focus on diplomatic as well as military solutions to international crises. Dean's campaign manager, Joe Trippi, called the Kerry campaign's assertion that Dean was unfit to be commander in chief "absurd," and said Dean "will never tolerate an erosion of American military power, nor has he ever said such a thing."

But the battling campaigns – complete with back-and-forth press releases - reached the peak of absurdity (and vitriol) Monday evening when the Dean folks put out the following:

"The following is the statement of Dean for America campaign manager Joe Trippi in response to a statement by Chris Lehane, communications director for Sen. John Kerry, in response to a statement by Joe Trippi in response to a statement by Chris Lehane: 'Who the hell is Chris Lehane?'"

Lehane and Trippi have agreed to meet for an arm-wrestling match after Saturday night's presidential candidate debate in Columbia, S.C.

Sharpton Files: After some criticism for not filing earlier, Al Sharpton's presidential campaign submitted the required financial reports to the Federal Election Committee yesterday. The reports show he's raised money from some interesting people.

Between January and March, Sharpton has raised $114,456 and has spent $54,456. According to the Daily News, he can thank radio host Tom Joyner, media tycoon Percy Sutton and Newark Mayor Sharpe James for $1,000 contributions. Abner Louima, who won an $8.75 million settlement when Sharpton represented him in a New York City Police torture case in 1997, also contributed $1,000. Louis Carr, president of ad sales for Black Entertainment Television, and Detroit "TV news anchor" Carolyn Clifford each donated $2,000.

Sharpton filed his report after questions arose when he was the only one of the nine Democratic hopefuls not to file a campaign finance report by April 15. The FEC rules require candidates to document their campaign finances once they spend $5,000, but allow for some flexibility while they are still "testing the waters." The Sharpton team claimed he was not obligated to file two weeks ago because he was still in the testing stage.

With yesterday's filing, Sharpton formally entered the presidential race, but his fundraising totals are far below most of his Democratic rivals, although he tops Carol Moseley Braun, who has raised only $72,450 so far.

Party Switcher: New York Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy
switched her party registration recently. She became a Democrat! McCarthy first ran for Congress in 1996 against an incumbent Republican after her husband was fatally shot riding the Long Island Railroad. The McCarthys were both registered Republicans.

According to The New York Times, a colleague speculated once: "Everybody sees you as a Democrat, but I'll bet you haven't switched because it's the only thing you have left from your former life."

Under New York State law it is legal to run on a party's line even if you are not registered in that party. However, you can't vote in another party's primary. Fortunately for McCarthy, she's never had much primary opposition.

As to "why now," he press secretary Mark Sokolove told CBS News the congresswoman had nothing more to say on the topic.

The Democrats aren't so inclusive when it comes to Lyndon LaRouche. The perennial presidential candidate says he's planning to run again but South Carolina Democrats will not allow them in their debate this Saturday.

"It's my call," Democratic state chair Dick Harpootlian told the Charleston Post and Courier on Monday. Democrats say LaRouche is neither a Democrat nor a legal voter.

LaRouche blamed former Democratic National Chair Don Fowler, a South Carolinian, for the snub. Fowler has said in the past that LaRouche wasn't a "bona-fide" Democrat because he held views that were "explicitly racist and anti-Semitic." In 2000, he wasn't registered to vote, and he has spent five years in jail.

According to the Associated Press, the LaRouche campaign released a letter signed by eight members of the South Carolina legislature, lawmakers from 11 other states and former U.S. Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders urging his inclusion in the debate this weekend.

According to the FEC, LaRouche has raised $3.7 million for this campaign.

Judicial Controversies Continue: As the Senate returns from a two-week break to wrangle with President Bush's tax-cut proposal off the floor, senators will have another wrestling match on the floor with a few of the president's judicial nominees.

It's expected that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., will hold another vote as early as Wednesday on controversial nominee Miguel Estrada, as well as seek a vote for another contentious judicial pick, Priscilla Owen.

Democrats, who have complained that Estrada has refused to answer questions about his background, have already prevented the passage of several cloture votes on the nominee since January – in essence, filibustering his confirmation. As for Owen, who Democrats disagree with on the abortion issue and feel is too pro-business for a lifetime appointment, it's unclear whether they'll mount a filibuster on her first confirmation vote, but it's definitely being considered.

Republicans, still fuming over Estrada's repeated rejection by Democrats, feel a double-whammy filibuster of the female Owen and Hispanic Estrada is politically unwise, but Democrats don't seem too worried.

"That party does not have a great deal of credibility with minorities," a Democratic aide told Roll Call.

Meantime, today the Senate is taking up a confirmation vote on Jeffrey Sutton, prompting pro-disability groups to protest on Capitol Hill. On Monday, Democrats such as Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and liberal interest groups tried to drum up support for opposition to Sutton, who successfully helped challenge the ability for disabled Americans to sue states for discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"A vote for Jeffrey Sutton is a vote against disability rights and civil rights," said Jim Ward of the National Coalition for Disability Rights. "A vote for Jeffrey Sutton is a vote for an extreme ideology that seeks to undermine congressional authority to protect American citizens."
Their protests may be in vain, however, as even Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said he expects Sutton to be confirmed.

Quote of the Day: "It's not meant to be a history." – Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., on her new book entitled, oddly, "Living History." (New York Post)

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