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Fla. evangelist defends right to criticize Romney campaign

TAMPA -- A Florida evangelist shrugged off allegations yesterday that he is illegally mixing religion and politics by telling followers that a vote for Mormon presidential candidate Mitt Romney "is a vote for Satan."

A watchdog group, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, hand-delivered a letter to the Internal Revenue Service last week asking for an investigation of St. Petersburg-based evangelist Bill Keller, who has used his online columns and late-night TV show to assert that Romney is not a Christian because he belongs to the Mormon Church.

The group says Keller's anti-Romney rants violate federal tax law, and it wants the IRS to look into revoking the tax-exempt status of his nonprofit ministry. The law prohibits tax-exempt organizations from endorsing or opposing candidates.

Keller, 49, who regularly refers to the Mormon Church as a cult, was unmoved. "I have never told anybody who to vote for or who not to vote for -- ever," Keller said. "I have every right to speak on matters of life and culture, including political issues, and to educate people on the spiritual implications of those issues."

Romney spokeswoman Kristy Campbell declined to comment yesterday on the efforts to have Keller's ministry investigated.

Regarding Keller's statements , Campbell said "it shows that bigotry from time to time can still rear its ugly head in society."

Edwards says US less safe
NEW YORK -- Presidential contender John Edwards yesterday disputed Democratic rival Hillary Clinton's contention that the United States is safer since Sept. 11 and said GOP candidate Rudolph W. Giuliani will never win if he embraces President Bush's policies.

Speaking on the New Yorkers' home turf -- and not far from ground zero -- Edwards dismissed Clinton's comments in Sunday's debate. Another rival, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, also has challenged her claim.

"Today, as a result of what George Bush has done, we have more terrorists and fewer allies," Edwards said at a news conference.

He never mentioned Clinton by name but the subject was obvious. Clinton advisers said she had been referring to improvements in domestic and airline security.

Giuliani touts crime system
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Giuliani said yesterday that if he is elected president, he would employ a version of a crime-measurement system that he used as mayor of New York City to tighten US border security, track down terrorism cells, and improve the agency performance.

Giuliani's CompStat system is widely credited with lowering the city's crime rate by more than half during his eight years as mayor. He later expanded the program to help reduce jail violence and to lower the number of residents receiving welfare benefits.

"If we did the same thing with our borders that we did with crime in New York City, we could stop people from coming into this country illegally by having a `BorderStat' program." he said during a speech at the Police Officers Association of Michigan's annual convention.

Each week, police personnel in New York City compile statistics on crime complaints and arrest activities. The data are used to detect crime trends and adjust policing strategies accordingly.

Obama targets voter rights
WASHINGTON -- Obama said yesterday that voter intimidation practices are targeting minorities, senior citizens, and the poor and must stop in time for the election.

The senator's comments were made as he testified in support of his bill to create prison sentences of up to five years for anyone who knowingly deceived voters on the time, place, or manner of conducting a federal election.