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Nader falls well below threshold for debate invite

The formal invitations went out Friday for the presidential debates, and there was no gold-embossed card for independent Ralph Nader.

The Commission on Presidential Debates asked President Bush and Democratic Sen. John Kerry to meet for their first debate next week. The commission invited Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. John Edwards to a single debate on Oct. 5.

Invitations were based on nonpartisan selection criteria adopted last year: that participants be constitutionally eligible for election; that their names appear on enough state ballots to have a mathematical chance of winning enough electoral votes for election; and that they receive at least 15 percent in an average of five national polls to show support for election.

Most national polls show Nader receiving only 1 percent to 2 percent support. Even that number might be inflated, however, because Nader has not qualified for the ballot in at least a dozen states, including California, Illinois, Missouri and Virginia. Nader is on the ballot in about 30 states.

The first presidential debate will be Thursday at the University of Miami in Coral Gables. The second, a town-hall style format, will be Oct. 8 at Washington University in St. Louis, and the third will be Oct. 13 at Arizona State University in Tempe.

One vice presidential debate will take place Oct. 5 at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

FEC proposes recount paid for by individual donations

WASHINGTON _ Federal Election Commission lawyers proposed Friday that presidential campaigns be allowed to use limited individual donations to cover the costs of recounts like the one that occurred in Florida in 2000.

The lawyers' recommendation did not address the broader question of whether the campaigns could set up separate funds to collect unlimited donations to help pay for recounts. The commission is expected to consider the lawyers' recommendation next week.

Falwell: GOP controlled by evangelical Christians now

WASHINGTON _ The Rev. Jerry Falwell boasted Friday that evangelical Christians, after nearly 25 years of increasing political activism, control the Republican Party and the fate of President Bush in the November election.

"The Republican Party does not have the head count to elect a president without the support of religious conservatives," Falwell said at an election training conference of the Christian Coalition.

Bush records released

WASHINGTON _ The Pentagon released 10 pages of records from President Bush's Vietnam-era service in the Texas Air National Guard late Friday, but the files shed no new light on his military career.

The records include several that have been released before and others that are administrative files or cover letters to other documents that have been previously released.

The candidates . . .

PRESIDENT BUSH: In Janesville, Wisc., President Bush said Democrat John Kerry wrongly questioned the credibility of the interim Iraqi leader, and "you can't lead this country" while undercutting an ally.

Bush and interim Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi had hopeful words for the future of Iraq a day earlier, which Kerry characterized as putting the "best face" on a Bush administration policy in Iraq that has gone wrong.

JOHN KERRY: In Philadelphia, Sen. John Kerry declared Friday that President Bush had "made the wrong choices in the war on terror" and had been diverted from that mission by the invasion of Iraq, leaving the nation less safe and terrorism harder to defeat.

"Let me be as blunt and direct with the American people as I can be," Kerry said in a speech at Temple University. "The invasion of Iraq was a profound diversion from the battle against our greatest enemy _ al-Qaida _ which killed more than 3,000 people on 9-11 and which still plots our destruction today."