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Washington Wrap

Dotty Lynch, Douglas Kiker, Beth Lester, Clothilde Ewing and Jessica Shyu of the CBS News Political Unit have the latest from the nation's capital.

Tuesday's Headlines

* Bush Kicks Off Re-Election Campaign

* Bush Backs Amendment Banning Gay Marriage But Cheney Gets Some Heat

* Ad Watch: Kerry Meets Edwards on the Air

* It's Not All About Super Tuesday

* No Inappropriate Comment Left Behind for Paige

* Poll Watch: California Dreamin'

Game On: He might not have mentioned him by name, but George W. Bush made it abundantly clear that his re-election campaign against John Kerry has begun in earnest.

The New York Times reports that Bush's speech, at a fundraiser for the Republican Governors Association, "kicked off his general election campaign on Monday night, shedding his above-the-fray posture to deliver a robust defense of his record and begin an assault on the Democratic front-runner."

In the speech, a preview of Bush's stump speech for the rest of the campaign, the president said: "The other party's nomination battle is still playing out. The candidates are an interesting group with diverse opinions: for tax cuts and against them; for NAFTA and against NAFTA; for the Patriot and against the Patriot Act; in favor of liberating Iraq and opposed to it. And that's just one senator from Massachusetts."

For his part, Kerry preemptively responded to the speech on Monday afternoon, saying so aggressive a tone from Bush was an indication that he was "on the run" before Democrats even officially choose their nominee.

(John Edwards, perhaps wondering why Bush all-but chose to ignore the fact that he is still running for the Democratic nomination, said of the speech: "This election isn't about my past. It's not about John Kerry's past or the president's past. This election is about the future.")

Bush also delivered a line that the campaign says will be the theme of the campaign: "The last three years have brought serious challenges. We've given serious answers and the strong leadership these times of extraordinary change demand."

Bush also used a bit of humor to put to rest one of the most popular parlor games in Washington these days: Will he or won't he stick with Dick Cheney as his VP in 2004?

Referring to Cheney's role as prospective vice-presidential candidate vetter in 2000, which ended, of course, with Cheney himself being tapped, Bush said: "Once again, I put him in charge of my vice-presidential search committee. He tells me he's reviewed all the candidates. And he's come back with the same recommendation as last time."

Bush Backs Gay Marriage Amendment: Tipping his hat to his conservative allies and polls that show strong support on the issue, President Bush announced on Tuesday his support for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, a move that is sure to spark a political bonfire going into an election year.

And, as the fight over gay marriage continues to boil, look for Vice President Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter, Mary, to be a central figure, The Washington Post reports. The Post says that, "thousands of gay rights supporters are posting open letters on the Internet urging Mary Cheney, the vice president's daughter, to speak out against amending the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage." In particular, the website urges Mary Cheney to exert some influence on the issue.

Also, the Kerry campaign sent to reporters a transcript of the 2000 vice-presidential debate in which Cheney himself said, "I think different states are likely to come to different conclusions, and that's appropriate. I don't think there should necessarily be a federal policy in this area." (Yes, that is on-camera.)

In a speech in the Roosevelt Room on Tuesday, Bush said, "If we are to prevent the meaning of marriage from being changed forever, our nation must enact a constitutional amendment to protect marriage in America. Decisive and democratic action is needed, because attempts to redefine marriage in a single state or city could have serious consequences throughout the country."

Ad Watch: Kerry Goes Back to Vietnam With John Edwards already on the air, the Kerry campaign moved to join him on Monday. The Kerry team announced that it would begin running ads "statewide" in Ohio and Georgia and "markets across upstate" in New York. The campaign will run its highly successful "Del" ad, in which a Vietnam crewmate of Kerry's calls him a "good American," in all three states. In Georgia, a new ad featuring former Sen. Max Cleland and Rep. John Lewis will begin later this week and an economy-focused ad will start airing in Ohio, reports CBS News' Steve Chaggaris, who is traveling with the Kerry campaign.

Perhaps not so coincidentally, those three states are exactly the same states where Edwards is running ads, although the Kerry buy is much larger. According to the Associated Press, Kerry will spend about $1 million, while Edwards is reportedly running ads to the tune of $270,000.

And if being outspent in three important Super Tuesday states is not enough, Edwards had a stumbling answer about EU trade sanctions, reported in the Los Angeles Times, and a New York Times story (widely circulated by the Kerry campaign) that he is waffling on NAFTA. All this, plus grinning his way through what looks like three more Kerry wins on Tuesday in Idaho, Utah and Hawaii.

So Much for Tuesdays: Since the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 27, Tuesdays have been a day to reckon with for Democrats seeking the nomination. First there was the question of whether Dean could rebound in time for a win in New Hampshire, where 22 delegates were up for grabs. Then there was the question of whether Edwards could win his must-win South Carolina, where voters were electing 45 delegates; then there was Tennessee and Virginia, where Kerry proved he could win in the South; and then there was Wisconsin, a state that winnowed the competition down to two.

So what about Tuesday the 24th?

If keeping with tradition meant anything, candidates would be slugging it out for wins in Hawaii, Idaho and Utah, which all hold contests today. But this time the three states, with a combined 61 delegates, are dwarfed by the big prize of 1,151 delegates in the ten Super Tuesday states on March 2.

After winning 15 out of 17 contests, Kerry is enjoying most of the momentum. According to the Associated Press, though, Edwards' advisers are giving up on Hawaii, Utah and Idaho - essentially ceding them to Kerry and looking for a surge a week later.

Dennis Kucinich, meanwhile, is not ready to hand over all three to the frontrunner without a fight, or at least a couple of nice trips. Kucinich has gone to Hawaii twice this season, confident that caucuses in the state will be his strongest showing so far, reports The Washington Post. Hawaii's caucuses typically attract around 3,000 participants, and chances are these voters will be more receptive to candidates who have put in face time.

The Kucinich campaign also took the lead when it came to signing up new party members, according to state party headquarters and so chances are he just may be able to beat his 16 percent finish in Maine.

Meanwhile, The Idaho Statesman, reports that Kerry picked up four of the five superdelegates in the state where he has a vacation home before Democrats even headed to caucus sites.

Hawaii caucuses are open, any voter can participate in either party's caucuses and 20 delegates are up for grabs. Caucuses begin at 5:30 pm local.

Idaho caucuses are open, any voter can participate in either party's contest and 18 delegates are up for grabs. Caucuses begin at 7:30 pm local time.

Utah primary is open and 23 delegates are up for grabs. Polls open from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. local time.

Back to School For Secretary Paige: Education Secretary Rod Paige called the National Education Association a "terrorist organization" during a private White House meeting with governors on Monday, the AP reports. The remark was immediately condemned by NEA President Reg Weaver who responded, "I think it is absolutely pathetic, and it is not anything to joke about."

Following Monday's meeting, DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe urged the Republican Party to "immediately renounce Secretary Paige's hate speech." Meanwhile, Stephanie Cutter, a Kerry Spokeswoman, said, "These remarks are inappropriate, particularly at a time when our nation has experienced the devastation caused by terrorism." John Edwards called the remarks "grossly offensive."

Later Monday, Paige issued an apology in which he stated, "It was an inappropriate choice of words. As one who grew up on the receiving end of insensitive remarks, I should have chosen my words better."

Poll Watch: A Piece of the 370 Delegate Pie: Although a total of 1151 delegates will be up for grabs on Super Tuesday (March 2), the biggest prize of the day by far is California, which will elect 370 delegates – the largest number from any state. For the two senators seeking the Democratic nomination, this is the king of all primaries. A new Los Angeles Times poll (conducted Feb. 18-22; margin of error 4 percent) shows Kerry with a 32-point lead, up 56 to 24. Why the gap? Looks like California voters buy the electibility argument as much as previous states have. According to the Times, "regardless of the voters choice for president, more than seven in 10 Democratic likely primary voters believe that John Kerry will have the best chance of beating George W. Bush in November."

The Times poll also looks at a hypothetical match-up between each of the Democratic contenders and President Bush, and both Edwards and Kerry are leading the president. As the Times concludes, "Bush gets the same reception in the Golden State as he did in 2000," which is to say he loses. In a hypothetical contest with Kerry, the Massachusetts senator leads the president 53 to 40, while Edwards tops Bush 49 to 42. Keep watching this space to see whether Edwards can close in California the way he did in Wisconsin.

California (370 delegates)
Los Angeles Times2/18-22
Democratic Primary (560 interviews)
Kerry 56
Edwards 24
Sharpton 4
Kucinich 1

Hypothetical general election match-up (1,005 interviews)
Kerry 53
Bush 40

Edwards 49
Bush 42

Quote of the Day: "During the doldrums, we face the risk of the media picking, willy-nilly, its own stories (some of which will be very negative). Or we can, given the press focus on you now as the nominee, write to some extent, our own media script." -- Reagan pollster Richard Wirthlin, in a 1980 memo, on how to handle the time between the primaries and the general election. (New York Times)

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