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Kerry finally to visit storm ravaged Florida


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Kerry aims to visit areas hit by Charley

 

Sidelined in the important swing state of Florida by Hurricane Charley, John Kerry will swoop into Southwest Florida for a tour of the damaged areas today.

 

BY LESLEY CLARK

 

lclark@herald.com

 

 

Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, who canceled two campaign visits to the state in deference to storm recovery efforts, will get a glimpse today of Hurricane Charley's wrath.

 

Kerry is to tour Southwest Florida with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who this week has visited disaster relief shelters across the state.

 

Kerry's campaign had suggested it would appear unseemly to rally voters while hundreds of thousands are still without electricity, but Democrats say Nelson's invite provides Kerry with political cover -- and a potentially important publicity boost in a battleground state where most polls show him in a statistical tie with President Bush.

 

Earlier this week, Kerry had expressed worries that his motorcade would disrupt relief efforts and he asked his Florida staffers and volunteers to help out storm victims.

 

He canceled a campaign trip to Orlando and an appearance by running mate John Edwards in Fort Myers, citing concerns that it was inappropriate to campaign in the midst of a statewide emergency. And an independent group that raises money for voter mobilization efforts on Kerry's behalf scrapped a fundraiser Thursday night in Miami Beach that was to feature Bette Midler.

 

Kerry and President Bush have often crossed paths on the campaign trail in the handful of swing states, and the visit today may provide another intersection with a Bush: Gov. Jeb Bush is scheduled to visit Punta Gorda, one of the hardest hit areas, just an hour before Kerry arrives.

 

The governor has suggested the storm may cause him to set aside politics, noting that he has yet to decide if he'll attend the Republican National Convention.

 

''My inclination is to certainly shorten my trip,'' Bush said. ``This [hurricane relief] is my priority and I'm not a delegate to the convention. My focus to go to the convention would be to show my support for my brother and to help him in the ways I can do that, but that's secondary right now.''

 

The hurricane has given President Bush plenty of opportunity to illustrate the power of incumbency: The governor and President Bush toured the area Sunday, then were followed by Bush appointees, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.

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