John McCaslin
Sen. John McCain had no response Tuesday to word of a challenge by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) for his Senate seat in 2004. It's still not known, for that matter, whether the 66-year-old McCain will take another stab at the White House next year. And as for Flake, he's also mum on a potential run for the Senate. "Congressman Flake is inclined to run for re-election to his House seat but he sure wishes Sen. McCain shared the president's love of tax cuts," is all spokesman Matthew Specht would tell this column. Just beginning his second term, Flake, 40, who never held elective office before coming to Capitol Hill, pledged to serve a maximum three terms. He'd still be keeping his word, although a Senate term lasts six years compared to two in the House. We last quoted Flake during the summer, remarking on the catastrophic forest fires in Arizona. He noted that many environmentalists finally conceded that controversial forest thinning was needed to prevent such fires, although he questioned the position of one group, Forest Guardians, that thinning was OK so long as accomplished by "solar-powered" chain saws. "I know my way around the hardware store pretty well," he chuckled, "but I've never seen the solar-powered chain saw section." FOLEY'S FUTURE Florida Rep. Mark Foley is considering a 2004 challenge to the seat held by Democrat Sen. Bob Graham, who's weighing everything from retiring to running for the White House. Sources tell us Foley is further buoyed since about 150 people - lobbyists, lawyers and political consultants alike - showed up to hear him speak off Capitol Hill last week. Foley spokesman Chris Paulitz said people were standing in the lobby for lack of chairs. Financially speaking, Foley is in solid early position for a Senate campaign, ranked second - $1.8 million after the 2002 campaign - among House Republicans. By comparison, the top Democrat, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, has $2.6 million in his presidential campaign chest. THORN GARDEN Inside the Navy, says the Pentagon, at the urging of White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card Jr., is accelerating efforts to replace the aging Marine Corps helicopters that transport President Bush at home and abroad. We know the choppers as "Marine One," the call sign used whenever the elite helicopter squadron HMX-1 transports the president in the Sikorsky-made VH-3D Sea King. "But these olive and ivory airframes, symbols of power and prestige, are getting old," writes Inside the Navy. "And given the post-September 11 security environment, Card wants a replacement aircraft called VXX to be developed years sooner than previously expected, according to a missive he sent Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Nov. 26, 2002." The White House, according to a Pentagon official, was irritated by occasions when a helicopter was not fully functional and a backup had to be used. One obstacle is finding a replacement chopper that doesn't have a horrendous downdraft, like three of the models under consideration. "The problem you're going to have with any of these three aircraft is they are going to blow the Rose Garden away," the Pentagon official told the publication. LONG WAR A search is under way for Vietnam veterans who died as a result of their service but who do not meet the government requirements for having their names added to the 58,229 inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, or the Wall. These additional "heroes" will be honored at the Fifth Annual In Memory Day ceremony at the Wall on April 21. More than 800 fallen veterans were recognized during past ceremonies. "Each year, thousands of service members and civilians die as a result of Agent Orange exposure or other physical and emotional wounds from the war," explains Jan C. Scruggs, founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which was responsible for building the Wall. Family members and friends should obtain an application to submit names no later that Friday, Feb. 28, by calling 202/393-0090 or by visiting www.vvmf.org. WEST VIRGINIA CALENDAR Faced with a Medicaid-driven budget crisis, West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise is demanding cheaper "Canadian prices" on pharmaceuticals sold in his state. But observers here in Washington say if Wise, a Democrat, looked further at the Canadian system, he'd realize that Canadian-style health care is a prescription for disaster. Which is why Citizens for a Sound Economy tomorrow will send "Canadian Healthcare First Aid Kits" to all of West Virginia's legislators and the governor, hoping it will stop Wise's plans. We're told the first-aid kit includes a "five-year calendar," so West Virginia citizens can schedule their emergency surgery at a pace consistent with the delays Canadian citizens must endure; and a bandage, aspirin and Alka-Seltzer, to hold them over while they wait.

John McCaslin

John McCaslin is a contributing columnist on Townhall.com and author of Inside The Beltway: Offbeat Stories, Scoops, and Shenanigans from around the Nation's Capital .

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