Bush's free ride

With a little help from his Democratic pals, George W. Bush has become the GOP front-runner for president. But it's a cold world beyond Texas' borders, and it may take more than charm and luck to carry a good ol' boy to the White House.

The tone of the Laredo event takes a sharp turn once the kids are escorted out of the library and a news conference begins. Laredo, in heavily Hispanic Webb County, is one area in which Mauro actually could beat Bush. Richards outpolled Bush in the county nearly 3-to-1 in 1994.

In Washington, political pundits are looking at the Texas governor's race to see if Bush can do what perhaps no other Republican presidential candidate can--appeal to a large number of Hispanics. "There are a lot of worries among Republicans that they must be able to do well with minorities, especially with Hispanics, if they are to win in 2000," says Doug Thompson, a Washington-based GOP political consultant. "If George W. Bush can pull 60 percent of the Hispanic vote, people are really going to sit up and take notice. Sixty percent is a lot, but I hear that's what they're shooting for."

Garza, who was a county judge in the Lower Rio Grande Valley before Bush tapped him as secretary of state, says South Texas Hispanics appreciate Bush's efforts to speak to them in Spanish.

"I have said, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that Governor Bush doesn't speak Spanish fluently, he speaks it fearlessly," Garza says. "When he is speaking Spanish to people, it exudes that working-man feel."

Garza says Hispanics also appreciate Bush for taking middle-of-the-road positions on immigration, bilingual education, and border control--positions in stark contrast to another Republican governor of a border state, California's Pete Wilson.

But at Bush's news conference in Laredo, a local reporter is interested only in the governor's plan to help Hispanics get into college now that the state no longer allows universities to consider race as a factor in enrollment. "Well, I'm against quotas," Bush says.

Then, to explain his position on why Texas does not need affirmative action, he reverts to the cornerstone of his re-election platform--reading. Bush wants all students, beginning in the third grade, to read at their grade level. If they cannot pass the reading portion of a standardized test, he wants schools to hold them back.

The buzz phrase for moving kids on to the next grade before they are intellectually prepared is "social promotion," and Bush wants the practice to stop. Stopping social promotion, he explains to the reporter, will help minority students be able to compete equally for spots in college.

The Laredo reporter, dissatisfied with Bush's response, asks her question again. What is his plan to compensate for the loss of affirmative action? He says he just answered that. No, she says, she means what is his plan specifically. Bush snorts. A real one, not one that doubles for his laugh. The reporter lets up. The news conference ends. Bush heads to the Laredo airport.

"Tough crowd," Bush says moments before departing Laredo.
Tough? Just wait.

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