President Bush was on the road with the message of a strengthening US economy in need of added help from tax-cut, energy, and health reform legislation. His speech in Kansas City, Mo., was due to begin at press time. Bush visits Indianapolis Friday for another economic address and a fund-raiser.

In the first debate of California's recall election, Gov. Gray Davis (D) said he understood voter anger behind it, conceding he was "slow to act" on the state's energy crisis. Then, his five main challengers squared off on how they'd lead the nation's most populous state. Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (D) came under fire for $2 million in campaign pledges from Indian tribes with casino interests. Lead candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) skipped the debate but is due to take part in another Sept. 24.

Embattled federal appeals-court nominee Miguel Estrada has withdrawn from consideration, Bush administration officials said. The Honduran immigrant and Harvard Law School graduate is one of three Bush judicial nominees whose confirmation Senate Democrats have blocked by a filibuster, contending their views are too conservative. The others are Texas judge Priscilla Owen and Alabama Attorney General William Pryor. No votes have been sought on two more.

Former WorldCom chief Bernard Ebbers was free on $50,000 bail after a court appearance in Oklahoma City Wednesday. Ebbers pleaded innocent to violating state securities laws in connection with the $11 billion accounting scandal that led to the company's record bankruptcy filing. Five other ex-WorldCom executives and the company - now known as MCI - are charged in the case.

A tropical storm warning was in effect for much of Florida's Gulf coast as a system expected to become tropical storm Henri neared. The National Hurricane Center in Miami said it would probably make landfall near Big Bend and cross the state into the Atlantic Ocean.

At a rainy 2003 Latin Grammy Awards in Miami, Colombian singer Juanes won five, among them album and song of the year. The ceremony Wednesday night also paid tribute to the late "Queen of Salsa" Celia Cruz.

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