Friday, July 09, 2004 Bush defends ed, job policies Metro | State
Bush defends ed, job policies
Web Posted: 07/09/2004 12:00 AM CDT

Rebeca Rodriguez
Express-News Staff Writer

In a nod to the nation's growing Hispanic population, President Bush defended his record on education and jobs to more than 1,500 convention-goers Thursday while vowing to make America "a welcoming place for Hispanic people."

Bush spoke during a live satellite feed to delegates at the 75th annual convention of the League of United Latin American Citizens at the Convention Center.

Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry of Massachusetts is slated to address the convention Saturday morning, also via satellite, capping a busy week of activity in both campaigns.

Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, was scheduled to speak at the event Wednesday, but her appearance was canceled after Kerry announced North Carolina Sen. John Edwards as his running mate.

With less than four months remaining before the election, both presidential campaigns are ratcheting up their cross-country stumping and are expected to focus heavily on so-called swing states, which include Arizona, Florida, Michigan, New Mexico and Ohio.

Electoral votes in those states, many of which have substantial Hispanic populations, could be pivotal in deciding the presidency in November.

In his 15-minute speech Thursday, Bush aimed for inclusion, telling participants that "in the United States, our aspirations matter more than our origins" and that "el sueƱo americano es para todos " (the American dream is for everyone).

He hailed his tax cuts and said the No Child Left Behind Act has helped improve educational achievement for all students, including Hispanics.

He also resurrected his proposal for a guest-worker-style program that would give temporary legal status to immigrants who work in jobs that are difficult to fill with U.S. citizens.

Although Bush did praise the dedication of U.S. troops in Iraq, he veered from mentioning the war on terror by name, choosing instead to focus on domestic issues.

"He completely skirted the issue (of the war) because he knows that issue is affecting him right now," said Jose Fernandez, a delegate from Florida.

Recent surveys, such as the Battleground 2004 poll out of George Washington University, show Bush and Kerry running virtually neck-and-neck.

That makes courting swing states and special-interest voters particularly crucial.

For Hispanics, Bush's focus on immigration is a positive first step, said Gabriela Lemus, LULAC's director of policy and legislation.

"I don't know that any other president has been that open about it," Lemus said. "But we've been given a very vague proposal, and what we need is something more concrete."

Bush's defense of his educational policies fell flat with convention-goers, who did not applaud when he mentioned No Child Left Behind.

"Hispanic children are not being educated like Bush thinks," said Samuel Esquivel, LULAC's state director for Arizona. "He was just campaigning."

Many said they were looking forward to hearing more about Kerry's commitment to education Saturday.

Bush said last year's tax cuts, which many Democrats have criticized, helped spur economic growth.

Laura Medrano-Carrillo a LULAC national vice president for the Northeast, said Bush's brief speech was too general and parroted what he has been saying for months.

On the flip side, Kerry's campaign failed to see the value of addressing the convention in person, said Medrano-Carrillo, a Massachusetts resident.

"They just blew it," she said. "They missed a big opportunity to meet the grass roots."

Although the Democratic Party long has considered itself the political bastion of Hispanics and other minorities, that is changing as the needs of voters become as diverse as the populations to which they belong.

"It's no longer use us and forget us," said Fernandez of Florida.

Democrats "cannot take us for granted anymore," he said.


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