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First debate puts Florida in focus

President Bush's campaign called on 6-million supporters nationwide Tuesday to "set partisanship aside" and contribute to hurricane relief in Florida as he and Sen. John Kerry prepared to fly into the storm-ravaged swing state for the fall's first presidential debate.

Aides said Bush-Cheney campaign chairman Marc Racicot's e-mailed appeal for American Red Cross donations had nothing to do with politics even though it coincides with the arrivals of the two candidates in the Miami area on Wednesday for their opening debate at 9 p.m. Thursday.

The vice presidential candidates were active on the campaign trail, touting their tickets as stronger and more sensible stewards in the fight against terrorism and Iraq in particular.

Vice President Dick Cheney used an appearance in Dubuque, Iowa, to accuse Kerry of repackaging Bush's policies.

"With 35 days left in the campaign, and just in time for the debates, Sen. Kerry says he has a plan for Iraq," Cheney told about 400 supporters. "Yet the plan he announced is not a plan; it's an echo of the strategy President Bush laid out many months ago."

In Pittsburgh, Sen. John Edwards told a crowd of union workers and university students that Bush policies _ including the handling of Iraq _ are to blame for rising gas prices and are lining the pockets of Halliburton executives and Saudi royals.

"You see what's happening to the price of a barrel of oil," he said on a day when it rose to $50.

FEC to appeal ruling

WASHINGTON _ The Federal Election Commission said Tuesday it will appeal a federal judge's decision to strike down more than a dozen of the government's current rules on political fundraising.

In a statement, however, the commission said it had not decided whether to ask the U.S. Court of Appeals to review all or some of the rules sent back to the agency by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.

Last week, Kollar-Kotelly ordered the FEC to write new rules to govern key aspects of fundraising, including when candidates and outside parties can coordinate activities.

Also . . .

CRAWFORD PAPER ENDORSES KERRY: A weekly newspaper that bills itself as President Bush's hometown paper endorsed John Kerry for president, saying the Massachusetts senator will restore American dignity. The Lone Star Iconoclast, circulation 425, was established in 2000, and said it endorsed Bush that year.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.