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Kerry, Edwards set to tag team Florida

Making up for lost time, Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards return to Florida this week for tag team campaigning.

While Kerry campaigns in Jacksonville on Tuesday and West Palm Beach on Wednesday, his running mate will hit Tampa on Tuesday afternoon and Miami on Wednesday. They will hook up for a rally in Orlando on Tuesday night, their first joint appearance since the night President Bush accepted the Republican nomination.

Edwards' Tampa appearance will be a town hall-style meeting on health care that is likely to be limited to invited guests. Details such as the location had not been finalized Saturday.

Hurricanes have kept Kerry from campaigning in America's biggest battleground state for nearly eight critical weeks following the Democratic convention, and many Democrats have been anxious for them to return.

The Massachusetts and North Carolina senators will steer clear of the Panhandle communities hit by Hurricane Ivan, but still walk a delicate line campaigning in a state beset by natural disasters.

"Our rule has always been that John Kerry and John Edwards didn't want to do anything to disrupt relief and recovery efforts, and we're confident these visits won't do that," said campaign spokesman Matt Miller. he said Floridians want to hear the candidates.

The hurricanes have also blown the Bush-Cheney campaign off its game plan, forcing the cancellation of a Tampa Bay campaign swing planned for later this week. Still, the president has been able to come to Florida in his official capacity to help comfort Floridians affected by hurricanes. He is scheduled to be in the Panhandle today.

The Kerry-Edwards Florida schedule was announced Saturday as hundreds of supporters gathered across the state for campaign volunteer training sessions.

"You are the infantry," Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Davis of Tampa told a crowd of about 200 at a Kerry campaign office in Largo. "We are going to be the battleground. Every person you talk to is going to matter a great deal."

The Democrats packed into an overheated industrial plant also heard a videotape from Kerry, a recorded message from campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill and were introduced to 14 Kerry field staffers based in Pinellas County.

In a sign of how hard both sides are fighting in Florida, the state Republican Party criticized a St. Petersburg group for holding a voter registration event Saturday that included assisting former felons with applying to get their civil rights restored.

That process usually takes years, but Mindy Tucker Fletcher of the Florida GOP said it could be "a concerted effort to register ineligible felons to vote" and called on Kerry to denounce it.

Kerry campaign spokesman Miller said he was unaware of that voter registration event, but called it "the height of hypocrisy for anyone in the Republican party to accuse anyone of inappropriate involvement with Florida elections. This is the same group that tried to illegally disenfranchise thousands of voters earlier this year."

He refered to a flawed and ultimately scrapped initiative by the Jeb Bush administration to remove suspected felons from the voter rolls.

Adam C. Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8241 or adamsptimes.com.

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