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Edwards to skip debate hosted by Fox

Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards speaks to students at UCLA in Los Angeles, Monday, March 5, 2007. (AP Photo/Mark Avery)

LAS VEGAS --Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards won't participate in a debate co-hosted by Fox News Channel and the Nevada Democratic Party, his campaign said Wednesday, as party officials tried to settle a dustup over their partnership with the cable network. Edwards' campaign said Fox News' participation was part of the decision to pass on the Aug. 14 debate in Reno, but it also cited scheduling conflicts.

Online activists and bloggers quickly hailed the decision as a victory in their campaign to urge Nevada Democrats to drop Fox News as a partner. MoveOn.org Civic Action says it has collected more than 260,000 signatures on a petition that calls the cable network a "mouthpiece for the Republican Party, not a legitimate news channel."

Fox News Channel vice president of news David Rhodes issued a statement calling it "unfortunate that Sen. Edwards has decided to abandon an opportunity to reach the largest mainstream cable news audience in America."

Democratic Party officials and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid initially touted the partnership with Fox News as an opportunity to reach out to a different bloc of voters. But in a letter posted Wednesday on the party's Web site, Democratic Party Chairman Tom Collins said Reid now shares activists' concerns and "has asked us to take another look."

Collins said the party would invite a "local progressive voice" to participate on the debate panel, which would include a reporter from a local Fox affiliate, a national Fox News reporter and the moderator.

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Democratic presidential candidates pitched in Wednesday to help the South Carolina Democratic Party fund its early window primary next January.

The party raised $150,000 by hosting a cocktail reception a couple blocks from the Capitol, featuring speeches by two candidates -- Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Chris Dodd of Connecticut.

Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson didn't appear in person, but each of their campaigns helped raise at least $10,000 for the event.

The only major candidate not to pitch in was Barack Obama. Obama spokesman Bill Burton declined to comment on why the Illinois senator didn't take part. "But we're looking forward to coming to South Carolina and campaigning," Burton said.

Obama isn't leaving the South Carolina Democratic Party without any money, though. He was the first candidate to buy the party's $65,000 voter file to help him reach out to Democratic supporters, party officials said.

South Carolina and Utah are the only states that have party-funded Democratic primaries. Wednesday's event raised about half the $300,000-$400,000 the party will need to run the election.

South Carolina's primary is the first nominating contest in the South and is considered an important barometer of a candidate's appeal across a diverse constituency. "The people of South Carolina are on the national stage and I think that's great," Clinton told the packed meeting room.

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LITTLE ROCK (AP) -- Republican Mike Huckabee delivered a no-tax pledge Wednesday to a national activist group in Washington, his campaign said.

The former Arkansas governor signed the Presidential Taxpayer Protection Pledge for Americans for Tax Reform after announcing his intentions last week at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.

In signing the pledge, Huckabee agreed to "oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates" for individuals and businesses and to oppose "any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates," according to a Huckabee campaign news release.

Huckabee, who formed a presidential exploratory committee in January, has found himself defending his record on taxes, having championed increases for the state's public schools, highways and natural resources.

On Wednesday, Huckabee said he cut 90 taxes while governor and has been a longtime supporter of ending the estate tax.

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BOSTON (AP) -- Republican Mitt Romney has named a top aide to a conservative Florida congressman to his presidential committee staff as a third deputy campaign manager.

The selection of yet another high-level campaign official with Florida ties underscores the attention Romney has devoted to the delegate-rich Sunshine State, where lawmakers are considering moving up the state's 2008 presidential primaries to early February.

Jason Roe will join two other deputies in assisting campaign manager Beth Myers. He has worked in Washington for Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Fla., since 2003. He previously worked for a Michigan lawmaker and in the Commerce Department.

For three months last year, Roe was on leave from Feeney's office to serve as campaign manager for Republican Peter Roskam's campaign for Illinois' 6th District House seat. Roskam won.

"It's obviously of great benefit to us that he's from Florida, given the fact that Florida is going to play an important part in this primary and general election process, but this hiring is much more an indication of his national political skills and national organizing skills," Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said.

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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- Republican George Pataki announced Wednesday that he is joining a New York City law firm and will specialize in environmental issues, particularly renewable energy.

The former New York governor, who has been eyeing a possible run for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, will be joined at Chadbourne & Parke by his former chief of staff, John Cahill.

Pataki spokesman David Catalfamo said Pataki is not ruling out a possible later jump into the presidential campaign, although Pataki has lately cut back on campaign-like activities.

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- A planned speech by Barack Obama to South Carolina's black legislators has survived a bid to have Hillary Rodham Clinton take his place.

The Illinois senator had accepted the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus' invitation to speak at its April 13 gala. But state Sens. Robert Ford and Darrell Jackson -- who have endorsed New York Sen. Clinton -- tried to sway their caucus to their candidate. The men relented Tuesday night and the caucus unanimously approved Obama's appearance.

The annual fundraiser traditionally features a black speaker and will provide a high-profile platform this year in a state that is hosting an early primary. Black voters accounted for 49 percent of vote in the 2004 Democratic primary here.

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Barack Obama joined in an effort to keep U.S. citizenship within reach for immigrants.

Although illegal immigration is presenting some thorny challenges for Democrats, the idea of promoting citizenship for those who enter the country legally is widely supported in both parties.

Being part of the effort could have some political payoff for Obama. Naturalized citizens tend to be more likely to vote, and many have not aligned themselves with a political party, according to studies by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. About half of the millions of citizenship-eligible immigrants are Latinos.

The Bush administration has proposed nearly doubling the cost of applying for U.S. citizenship and also raising fees for other immigration benefits.

Legislation introduced by Obama with Reps. Luis Gutierrez and Jan Schakowsky, also Illinois Democrats, would require the government to freeze application fees at current levels.

The bill also calls for $80 million a year to promote citizenship and provide grants to community groups that assist immigrants in becoming citizens.

The bill's message to legal immigrants is "if you work hard, if you act responsibly, if you take care of your children, if you embrace our values, then we will work just as hard to ensure that you get a fair shot at joining the American family," Obama said.

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- Democrat John Edwards said Wednesday he's not worried about all the attention Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama are getting more than a year and half out from the 2008 presidential elections.

In San Antonio for a private fundraiser, Edwards told reporters after a campaign rally that "I feel a long way from left out. I think it'll be clear that I'll get all the attention I need."

The crowd at the rally didn't quite fill the floor of a former train station now used for special events and surrounded by restaurants and shopping.

"This campaign we're going to get past the early glitz very quickly," Edwards said. "It's going to get to be serious. The question's going to be who actually has the vision and the maturity and the depth to be president of the United States."

Also Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, D-San Antonio, issued a letter endorsing Edwards for the Democratic nomination.

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Federal Election Commissioner Michael Toner will leave the regulatory agency this month and open a campaign law practice at Bryan Cave LLP, an international law firm with a vast corporate clientele.

Toner, who recently served as chairman of the FEC, said his last day at the agency will be March 14.

"The upcoming election cycle is going to involve many of the important issues that the FEC has dealt with in recent years, so I look forward to helping corporations, trade associations, candidates and individuals understand and comply with the election laws," Toner said.

Toner would be prohibited from representing clients before he FEC for one year under federal ethics rules.

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LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Labor leaders on Wednesday asked the network of AFL-CIO unions to wait to endorse a presidential candidate until after the national federation makes its choice, a move they hope will prevent the divisions that marked the 2004 presidential campaign.

"Everybody believes this will be a strong way to mobilize the rank and file and prepare them to make a decision on endorsement when the time is right for that," AFL-CIO President John Sweeney told reporters before the executive council approved a resolution asking the unions to hold off on endorsements.

Along with a call for unity, the plan approved by the council includes a series of discussions between members and candidates, focus groups and online polling of members, and a candidates' forum in Chicago in August. Sweeney said the general board, made up of representatives from each of the 54 AFL-CIO affiliated unions, was expected to meet in September.

The statement is the first time the AFL-CIO formally has asked its affiliated unions to hold off on an endorsement, although it has urged cohesion in the past, with mixed results. The unions are autonomous groups and can't be ordered to fall in line.

In the 2004 primary, union support largely split between Democratic candidates Howard Dean and Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt. When the national AFL-CIO met in February 2003, its board members could not reach the two-thirds vote necessary to agree on a candidate and did not endorse. The federation did not line up behind Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., until a year later, well after his nomination was secure.

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Associated Press writers Glen Johnson in Boston, Marc Humbert in Albany, N.Y., Jim Davenport in Columbia, S.C., Elizabeth White in San Antonio and Suzanne Gamboa and Jim Kuhnhenn and Nedra Pickler in Washington contributed to this report.

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