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TODAY'S TOPIC: HOMELAND SECURITY

This year's presidential election might again hinge on Florida, particularly along the so-called Interstate 4 corridor that stretches from the Tampa Bay area through Orlando. President Bush, John Kerry and their running mates probably will drop by often, so Xpress wants to help make a little sense of what they will be saying. This is the third in a series about issues surrounding the election. For others in the series, visit www.sptimes.com/xpress.

Today, Xpress looks at what the candidates have to say about HOMELAND SECURITY.

WHAT BUSH SAYS: Along with Congress, he created the Department of Homeland Security to protect our nation "through better coordination of individual agencies," such as the FBI and CIA. Bush touts the Patriot Act, which was passed shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, with his urging. It gives law enforcement and intelligence officers broader surveillance powers and allows them to communicate and coordinate their efforts to unearth and stop terrorist activity. If re-elected, Bush said, he would tighten security at the U.S. borders by hiring more border patrol agents and increasing aerial surveillance. He also wants to make funds available to develop "more advanced countermeasures," such as drugs or vaccines, to quickly combat biological or chemical weapons.

WHAT KERRY SAYS: Kerry has separate plans for "national security" and "homeland security." His plan for national security focuses first on international relations. He wants to repair America's strained relationships with other countries. His plan for homeland security involves, just as Bush's does, improving the intelligence agencies' ability to gather, analyze and share information to track down and stop terrorists from doing harm inside our country. He also wants to tighten border security. Kerry has criticized Bush, saying chemical industry lobbying has kept Bush from strengthening security at chemical plants. Nuclear plants and ports also need to be more secure, he says. "The question is whether our government is investing in the homeland security efforts that actually make us safe," Kerry said in December. The most serious security issue facing the United States, Kerry says, is the potential spread of nuclear weapons and materials throughout the world.

BEHIND THE PROMISES: Though many, if not most, Americans are uncertain about the war in Iraq, Bush has a good amount of support for his efforts in the war on terrorism. Recent polls suggest that voters trust that Bush would be more effective in fighting terrorism than Kerry. But critics say the Patriot Act has damaged civil liberties and allows the government to detain people, particularly Arab-American males, with little evidence. Kerry voted for the Patriot Act but is now in favor of letting it expire. Also, there is concern among many that the war in Iraq has increased anger against the United States, thus increasing the likelihood of more terrorist attacks.

In two weeks: Xpress looks at the candidates' views on the MINIMUM WAGE.

Information from the Associated Press, CNN.com, www.georgewbush.com and www.johnkerry.com was used in this report.

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