Posted: Feb 07, 2004 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- High-ranking advisers to Sen. John Kerry privately say Sen. John Edwards has to be considered the top candidate for vice president on a Kerry-led ticket.

While Kerry and Edwards battle each other in Democratic presidential primaries and publicly disagree over international trade, they also are pulling their punches against each other. North Carolinian Edwards's decisive win last Tuesday in the South Carolina primary fortified Kerry advisers who want a Southerner on the ticket.

A footnote: Supporters of Rep. Richard Gephardt's abandoned presidential campaign have started pushing the former House Democratic leader for vice president. A Kerry-Gephardt ticket would pursue a non-Southern strategy, with Gephardt counted on to bring in his own state of Missouri and also help in industrial states.


Budget Director Joshua Bolten has privately issued an unprecedented challenge to unhappy conservative Republicans in Congress: Go ahead and cut President Bush's domestic budget if you can. We won't oppose you.

Bolten addressed GOP lawmakers assembled in Philadelphia just before the budget was released. Conservatives grumbled that Bush's proposed increase in discretionary domestic spending of only one quarter of one percent was bogus, because its reductions in popular programs never will pass Congress.

A footnote: Senior Republicans are backing a highway bill that is much too costly for the president. Bush has threatened to veto any transportation bill over $265 billion, but both the Senate and House bills are over $300 billion.


On the day after he scored his first presidential primary victory by carrying Oklahoma, retired Gen. Wesley Clark called together his congressional supporters to assure them -- via speaker telephone -- his candidacy is viable and will do well next Tuesday in Virginia and Tennessee.

Ten House Democrats -- out of 22 who have endorsed Clark -- gathered in the office of Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, the general's leading congressional backer. Not present was Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, a former White House aide of Bill Clinton who is a link between Clark and the former president. Emanuel, citing a scheduling conflict with a House Financial Services Committee meeting, denied that he was ready to abandon the general.

A footnote: Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's labor union backing appeared ready to leave him in anticipation of defeat Saturday in Michigan's caucuses. Rep. Nydia Velazquez of New York also was reported ready to reconsider her support for Dean.


The Bush administration, never enthusiastic about arming airline pilots against terrorists, has so impeded the congressionally mandated plan that new legislation is being introduced to force action.

Republican Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina, who contends "one roadblock after another" has been set up by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), is introducing a bill with an expected 50 co-sponsors to correct this. Similar legislation is being introduced by Republican Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky.

The principal complaints with the TSA are its requirements that firearms be contained in lock boxes when the pilot leaves the cockpit and that the pilots authorized to use the weapons must undergo psychological testing.


The unexpected decision by Rep. Jennifer Dunn not to seek a seventh term from her suburban Seattle district changes a sure seat from the small Republican House majority to a hotly contested seat.

While Dunn's re-election would have been assured, nothing now is certain in a district that was carried by Al Gore in 2000. The Democrat unopposed so far for the nomination is Alex Alben, a dot-com millionaire self-funding his candidacy. The leading Republican to replace Dunn is King County Sheriff David Reichert, but conservatives would prefer radio talk-show host John Carlson.

Dunn was a member of the House Republican leadership until her unsuccessful bid to become majority leader for the 1999 session of Congress. An early backer of George W. Bush for president, she was discussed as a possible Cabinet member following the 2000 election.