Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- The Rev. Al Sharpton is telling friends he welcomes the sudden rise of Howard Dean to the top tier of Democratic presidential candidates because the former governor of Vermont dilutes the white vote without attracting African-Americans.

Sharpton's strategy is to capture black voters while seven white candidates split the white vote. Off all top tier candidates, Dean has the least African-American support but now is near the lead of the largely white electorate in the first two tests of Iowa and New Hampshire. Sharpton counts on Dean to divide white voters in important primaries in South Carolina and Michigan, where African-Americans play a potentially decisive role.

Current polls do not show Sharpton with a majority of black voters, but he aims to raise his totals as the elections near. Sharpton does not regard the only other black candidate, former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, as a serious adversary.


Sharon Rocha, the mother of murder victim Laci Peterson, has written Senate Democratic Leader Thomas Daschle asking him to co-sponsor the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. He is not co-sponsoring the measure, though his office says he wants it handled "expeditiously."

The death of Peterson and her fetus generated support to make it a separate crime to harm an unborn baby. The measure has twice passed the House, but failed in the Senate under pressure from the abortion rights lobby.

Despite Daschle's favorable comments, its progress is threatened by Democratic plans to try to attach hate crimes legislation to it.


Cuban-American supporters of George W. Bush in the Miami area have informed the president's political operation that Florida could go Democratic in 2004 if its native son, Sen. Bob Graham, is the vice presidential nominee.

The Bush backers say that a "mainstream" presidential nominee paired with Graham would be very difficult for the Bush-Cheney ticket to defeat in Florida. All Republican victory calculations for 2004 are predicated on carrying the state.

A footnote: The state's political insiders from both parties are betting Graham will not seek re-election to the Senate next year, whatever the course of his presidential candidacy.


Sen. Thomas Daschle, leader of the Senate's Democratic minority, attempted an audacious coup Wednesday when he seized the majority leader's prerogative by calling up a stalled child tax credit bill.

Majority Leader Bill Frist, not alerted by Daschle, was off the floor when the minority leader made his move. Sen. Richard Lugar, managing the State Department reauthorization bill on the floor, stopped the proceedings by initiating a quorum call and summoning Frist. When he arrived, Frist made a non-debatable motion to kill the bill. All 51 Republican senators, told that this was a test of whether Frist or Daschle was going to be the real majority leader, defeated the proposal in a straight party-line roll call.

Sharply different versions of broadening the child tax credit were passed by the House and Senate, and the conference appointed to resolve the differences has not yet formally convened.


The appointment Wednesday of the highly regarded Susan Schwab as deputy secretary of the Treasury reflected President Bush's determination to name a woman to this high position.

The post has been vacant since Kenneth Dam resigned Feb. 4. A push by key White House aides to fill the job with Deputy National Security Adviser Gary Edson was killed by wholesale objections at the Treasury. In any event, Bush insisted on a woman.

Two women turned down offers, until the president turned to Schwab. A former U.S. trade negotiator and assistant secretary of Commerce, she has been dean of the University of Maryland School of Public Affairs the last eight years. She was talked into returning to the government this year as vice chairman and chief operating officer of the Export-Import Bank. Before that appointment could be made, she was selected for the Treasury post.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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