The Dallas Morning News
Thursday, July 17, 2003

La Raza draws Presidential Nominees to Bush Territory

By April Castro / Associated Press Writer

AUSTIN (AP) -- Attention focused by Democratic hopefuls Sen. John Kerry and Howard Dean on the National Council of La Raza annual conference in Austin is an indication of the growing influence of the Hispanic swing vote in presidential politics.

"Make no mistake. The president and his administration are fully aware of our political potential," said NCLR president Raul Yzaguirre. "As we gather here, the Bush administration is analyzing the Hispanic vote, studying political maps and plotting their Latino strategy."

The number of registered Latino voters -- recently identified as America's largest minority -- increased 20 percent from 1996 to 2000. Hispanic voters are expected to increase by two million in 2004, according to the council. The NCLR estimates 7.3 million Latino citizens not yet registered to vote.

The conference was expected to draw about 20,000 Hispanics, a traditionally Democratic constituency.

"We are now the nation's largest minority," Yzaguirre said. "To those who are threatened by our numbers, let us educate and proclaim the good news that America is becoming more truly American because of our growing presence."

Kerry of Massachusetts lambasted the president's record on the issues of health care, education and immigration on Sunday while making a powerful pitch for the sought-after Hispanic vote.

"Last election, he promised so much to win your votes," Kerry said. "But President Bush won't be running on his rhetoric this time, he'll be running on his record."

Kerry, one of the early front-runners for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, was guest speaker at the La Raza council's conference. Dean, former governor of Vermont, was scheduled to address the Hispanic advocacy group on Monday.

"I think the Hispanic community ... just wants to be respected like every other American and to see that promises made are promises kept," Kerry said Sunday. "My Hispanic agenda is this: the American agenda."

That agenda, he said, includes improving schools, access to health care and creating more jobs to combat the high unemployment rate.

Yzaguirre, president of NCLR, also criticized Bush's record as president, calling his administration "two and a half years of neglect, disinterest and disrespect" to Hispanics.

"The truth is, that for the issues that matter to us, this administration has been a major disappointment for the Latino community," Yzaguirre said.

A statement from the Republican National Committee was critical of Kerry's pitch to Hispanics.

"When it comes to the Hispanic community, John Kerry, Howard Dean and the rest of the Democrats running for president will say anything to please a crowd," said Republican spokeswoman Sharon Castillo. "However, careful consideration of their records and agenda tell a different story. Republicans have a great leader in President Bush, a positive agenda that fosters progress and no Democrat can compete with that."

Democratic state Rep. Rene Oliveira, an NCLR board member, said that the nonpartisan group invited several Republicans to address the group, but most declined. Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison was scheduled to address the council at a breakfast Monday morning.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)