WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Hispanic and Asian populations of the United States surged during the 1990s, the number of Hispanics growing by more than 35 percent and Asians more than 40 percent, the Census Bureau says.

A report released Tuesday furnishes fresh evidence of increasing ethnic diversity and its unpredictable impact on the nation's political and social landscape.

The trend is leading to a time when ``everybody's a minority,'' said Vanderbilt University historian Hugh Davis Graham.

Blacks, whose numbers grew almost 13 percent between 1990 and 1998, remain the nation's largest minority at 12.7 percent, or 34.4 million of the nation's population of about 270 million in 1998.

Hispanics made up 9 percent of the population in 1990, and that grew by 1998 to just over 11 percent of the total, 30.3 million, the annual update of the 1990 Census said.

The high number of Hispanics in large Electoral College states such as Texas, California, Florida and New York gives the group substantial political clout, but the growth of Hispanics showed up in less expected areas.

``Four states had their Hispanic populations double _ Arkansas, Georgia, Nevada and North Carolina,'' said Census statistician Larry Sink.

_Arkansas' Hispanic population increased by 150 percent to 49,000.

_Georgia's increased by 102 percent to 220,000.

_Nevada's increased by 124 percent to 78,000.

_North Carolina's increased by 110 percent to 161,000.

The Hispanic population, already one of the nation's largest minorities, will overtake the non-Hispanic black population by the end of 2004, said statistician Larry Sink.

``We've seen race relations as a black-white issue,'' said Roderick Harrison of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington think tank. ``Clearly, the size of the Hispanic population and the Asian population turns it into a multicultural issue.''

The Asian and Pacific Islander population grew in the 1990s from 3 percent of the overall population to almost 4 percent at 10.5 million.

_In Nevada the Asian-Pacific Islander population increased by 106 percent to 81,000.

_In Georgia, it increased by 95 percent to 150,000.

_In North Carolina, it increased by 87 percent to 100,000.

Dinah Choi, project director for the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, said the rapid growth in numbers of Asians emphasizes a need for an accurate Census count in 2000.

The country's population of American Indians, Eskimos and Aleuts grew 14 percent to 2.4 million during the period.

States that already had significant populations of specific minorities showed less dramatic rate increases. For example, California increased its Hispanic population by 31 percent and its Asian population by 34 percent.

The explosion in Hispanic population lets Latinos sense their growing political potency.

``This is a very critical (presidential) race for us, and we will be the defining group,'' Aida Alvarez, chief of the Small Business Administration, said Tuesday at a rally for Vice President Al Gore's presidential campaign. ``The 21st century will be a Latino century, no doubt about it.''

George W. Bush, governor of Texas and the front-runner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, also is targeting the Hispanic vote. A recent poll said he and Gore are splitting the Hispanic vote in Texas, but Bush trails in California.

Republican consultant David Hill of Houston warned a decade ago that the GOP needed to gain a bigger share of the Hispanic vote or lose gains made when they carved away some whites who traditionally voted Democratic before the Reagan era. These Democrats came to be known as ``Reagan Democrats.''

``The only way to change the equation is for Republicans to get a larger share of the Hispanic vote,'' Hill said. Hispanics voted for President Clinton in 1996 by more than 3-1, according to exit polls.

``The Democratic Party has always believed that one of our greatest strengths is the diversity of our party, and Hispanics and Asians have felt comfortable with Democrats,'' said Jenny Backus, a Democratic spokeswoman.

Presidential candidates from both parties have made clear this year that they want the Hispanic vote, said Lisa Navarrete, spokeswoman for the Latino advocacy group the National Council of La Raza.

``We have been experiencing something people have been predicting for a long time,'' she said. ``The growth has been amazing since the 1970s. What has really made a difference is the growth of the Latino communities where they normally have not been.''