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Cleared for takeoff, Nader swings through Florida

The scourge of the Democratic party, Ralph Nader makes his first campaign swing through Florida since making the ballot as the Reform Party nominee. Nader will campaign in Jacksonville and Gainesville on Monday, West Palm Beach on Tuesday and Orlando and Tampa on Wednesday. He hits Miami on Thursday as Bush and Kerry arrive for a debate, which excludes Nader. The 8 p.m. Tampa Bay event is set for Centro Asturiano at 1913 Nebraska Ave.

DEBATE PARTNER POUNCED ON: John Kerry wants to peel away Cuban-American support from President Bush, but he didn't help himself in picking debate practice partners. One is prominent Washington lawyer Gregory Craig, who represented Elian Gonzalez's father during the custody battle over the Cuban boy.

Polls showed most voters favored returning the boy to his father, but the Bush-Cheney camp was happy to pounce on the opportunity to fire up Cuban-Americans against Kerry.

"Kerry's decision to embrace Gregory Craig is just another reason why Florida voters will not trust him with the presidency," Bush campaign spokesman said in a statement Friday.

A REGISTRATION LESSON: You can never be too sure about voting. Ask Alia Faraj, the governor's former press secretary.

The native of Jordan became a U.S. citizen Aug. 27 at ceremonies in Jacksonville.

She signed up with a League of Women Voters representative at the ceremony to vote in Leon County as a Republican.

Faraj, now a top aide to Secretary of State Glenda Hood, is racing around the state dealing with hurricane problems and election questions, and she's looking forward to casting her first ballot.

On Wednesday, she checked with Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho to make sure she was formally registered because she had yet to receive a voter ID card.

"I'm not registered," Faraj said. "They have no record of me."

Fortunately, voters who want to cast ballots in the Nov. 2 general election have until Oct. 4 to sign up, so Faraj filled out the paperwork again.

Elections officials say her experience should be a lesson to anyone who has registered to vote with any of the independent groups helping out this year. Be sure the forms get to the courthouse on time.

INTELLIGENCE OPERATIVES: The Bush-Cheney campaign must have the inside scoop on an active Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation.

Bush's campaign issued a news release Monday that said Florida Democrats were registering sex offenders to vote. Rather than citing any evidence of that, the release noted a St. Petersburg Times story about someone illegally registering sex offenders in Arcadia. The FDLE is investigating the case.

FDLE agents won't say who helped the sex offenders. But the Bush campaign suggests it knows.

"We have information on that," said Alberto Martinez, a spokesman for the Florida Bush campaign.

FDLE spokesman Larry Long said he didn't know how the Bush camp got its intelligence. "I can't comment on that," he said.

The voter registration of the sex offenders might be a clue. Five signed up as Democrats; one chose no party affiliation.

NOT ON TERRA FIRMA WITH GOP: Jerry Cameron could be the first Libertarian Party candidate to make a serious impact in a legislative race in Florida.

Making use of a new law that eases minor party candidacies, the ex-Republican is running in a three-way race for the open House seat held by Rep. Doug Wiles, D-St. Augustine, who's being forced out by term limits.

Cameron, a former police chief and city manager in Fernandina Beach, says local Republican activists, whom he would not identify, have urged him to drop out of the race, saying he's a spoiler who would siphon votes from a Republican candidate and boost Democrats' chances of holding the seat.

"I couldn't attest to that," says Frank Terrafirma, who watches House races for the Republican Party of Florida. "We certainly haven't done that, or directed anyone to do that."

The 59-year-old Cameron says the GOP is not committed to a smaller, less intrusive government with lower taxes. But Terrafirma said the GOP refused to support Cameron's candidacy because he embraced other Libertarian views, like legalization of drugs.

Republicans are banking on Bill Proctor, a Flagler College executive. The Democratic nominee is Barbara Revels of Flagler Beach.

The District 20 seat is one of four statewide held by Democrats that is being targeted by Republicans.

HAVE DALI, WILL TRAVEL: A special exhibition of Salvador Dali's art opened at the governor's mansion in Tallahassee last week.

First lady Columba Bush opened the exhibition with a group of teachers and students on hand to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.

The selections are from the Salvador Dali Museum collection in St. Petersburg. Bush is honorary chair of the 2004 Salvador Dali Centennial Celebration Committee.

The paintings and a virtual tour of the governor's mansion are available at

Lucy Morgan and Adam C. Smith contributed to the Buzz.

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