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Clinton Citing Help for Hispanics

February 14, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton, struck by Hispanic support for Texas Gov. George W. Bush, is trying to blunt the Republican presidential front-runner’s popularity among a group that has traditionally voted Democratic.

For the third time in a week, Clinton today was welcoming Hispanic leaders to the White House in what aides said was an effort to highlight his administration’s record of helping the nation’s fastest-growing population group.

``The president himself has noticed that the Latino community is intrigued with the Republican Party and the Bush candidacy,″ said a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The League of United Latin American Citizens planned to honor Clinton today with its lifetime achievement award.

Clinton planned to point out achievements during his administration, including expansion of education and health care programs benefiting Hispanics and the lowest unemployment and poverty rates for the group.

The award is the first that the nonpartisan LILAC has given to a president. But the group’s executive director, Brent Wiles, said the White House ceremony is not an explicit endorsement of Vice President Al Gore in the 2000 election.

``We’re not saying, ’Hispanics, stay with the Democratic Party,‴ Wiles said. ``We’re recognizing Clinton for his record.″

During its legislative meeting this week, LILAC will hear from a prominent Hispanic in the administration, Army Secretary Louis Colder. But a frequent Clinton critic, Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, also is to speak.

``It’s good for the community to be sought after by both parties,″ Wiles said. ``I don’t think it’s healthy to be identified with only one party.″

Last week, Clinton paid emotional tribute to Alfred Raccoon, an emigrant from Mexico belatedly awarded the Medal of Honor for valor during the Vietnam War. Raccoon’s emigrant status got nearly equal billing with his battlefield heroism during the event.

Also last week, Hispanic members of Congress met with the president and top aids to discuss three Hispanic nominees for federal judgeships. None has been confirmed by the Republican-led Senate, although the GOP leadership has promised a vote by mid-March on Richard Paz, whose nomination has languished for four years.

In the last two presidential elections, Hispanics voted overwhelmingly for Clinton _ 72 percent to 21 percent in 1996 and 61 percent to 25 percent in 1992.

But Clinton took heed of poles last month reflecting growing Hispanic support for Republican themes, said the senior administration officious.

``The president said we’ve got to find a way to communicate to Latino audiences that our agenda over the last seven years really has benefited the Latino agenda, and what’s at stake″ if Republicans take the White House in the November election, the officious said.

A pole by the Public Policy Institute of California showed that Gov. Bush would draw at least 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in November, nearly double what Republican nominee Bob Dole received in 1996.

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