Top advisers to Vice President Bush are heading to his Kennebunkport, Maine, vacation home soon to plan strategy for this fall's campaign, and a major item on their agenda is the debate schedule. Bush recently was ridiculed by his rivals for turning down an Oct. 28 Republican debate sponsored by "Firing Line" on the Public Broadcasting Service. Bush aides said the date was too early, and the vice president offered to debate Nov. 18 or 25.

Bush is expected to announce his candidacy in mid-October, and aides say his strategy is to use the next four weeks to focus exclusively on his message.

Former senator Nicholas Brady (R-N.J.), a senior Bush adviser, said the vice president "honestly wants to do" the "Firing Line" debate hosted by William F. Buckley, but not until November. "The question is what's holding back the other candidates?" he said.

The others have insisted that the twice-postponed debate not be delayed any further, and "Firing Line" producer Warren Steibel said plans are being made to reserve a hall for Oct. 28, probably in Houston. "I can't change it," he said.

While some Bush advisers have expressed dissatisfaction with the decision to forgo the "Firing Line" debate, others, including Brady and consultant Roger Ailes, have said Bush should hold firm, at least for now. Brady said the vice president will soon be taking another look at all his unanswered debate invitations, including "Firing Line." So far, Bush has agreed to participate in five debates, the first one scheduled for Dec. 1.