- The Washington Times - Friday, June 21, 2002

Democratic lawmakers said Hispanics will see through President Bush's efforts to try to win their votes, despite his current strong showing in polls of the Hispanic electorate.

"The Bush administration is making a very overt, I think fairly craven, crass effort to appeal to Hispanic Americans," said Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and one of a handful of Democrats exploring a run against Mr. Bush in 2004. He spoke to about 100 Hispanic elected officials and community leaders at Senate Democrats' third annual Hispanic outreach summit. It was held at the U.S. Capitol.

The main question facing Democrats was how to handle the president's immense popularity among Hispanics. A recent Democrat-sponsored poll by Sergio Bendixen of 800 likely Hispanic voters found the president has converted that popularity into substantial political support.

Republicans said that shows Hispanics are responding well to the president's Republican philosophy.

"I think the numbers speak for themselves. The president has overwhelming support form the Latino community, and every day they learn about our initiatives, their support follows," said Sharon Castillo, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.

But Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, who attended part of yesterday's session, said the president's poll numbers are artificially high right now given his overall popularity during the war. He expects Democrats to continue to collect two-thirds of Hispanic votes in the 2002 and 2004 elections and said the future for elected officials looks bright, with Democrats accounting for 92 percent of the 5,000 Hispanic elected officials nationwide.

Democrats said their appeal to Hispanics is twofold. They are pursuing some policies aimed directly at the community, like an effort to pass a new round of applications for some illegals to apply to adjust their status. And they believe general Democratic priorities match Hispanic priorities on Social Security, raising the minimum wage, expanding hate crimes legislation and particularly on education policy.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, released a report yesterday on the state of Hispanic education in America. It detailed several areas in which the president's proposed budget would hurt Hispanics disproportionately, including eliminating a high school dropout-prevention program Hispanics have the highest dropout rates of any ethnic group and freezing funds that help staff programs for students with limited English.

"The education budget proposed by this administration is an empty promise for the future of Hispanic schoolchildren," said the Massachusetts Democrat.

But Ms. Castillo said the Democrats' record has problems, too. She pointed to judicial nominations, where Republicans blame Democrats for holding up the nomination of Miguel Estrada, a conservative Hispanic, and to Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, who forced Democratic leaders to abandon their last attempt to pass a new round of applications for illegals to adjust their status.

She also took issue with Mr. Kerry's characterization of the president's outreach.

"It's just incredibly preposterous to think every time Democrats do something it's great, but when Republicans do something it's pandering. I think that's disrespectful," she said.

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