DALLAS, TX—Two potential competitors for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination came together Wednesday to make a pitch for the votes of Hispanics, who have objected to GOP-led immigration, welfare and education initiatives.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Gov. George W. Bush of Texas delivered essentially the same message to the annual meeting of the League of United Latin American Citizens, a civil rights group for the fastest-growing minority in the country.
“I came today to say my door is open. We want to work with you,” Gingrich said at a luncheon for nearly 1,000 people.
But while Gingrich was politely received, Bush heard cries of “We love you” from the audience and responded in kind. “Te amo,” he said.
Their back-to-back speeches showed, in Bush’s case, the potential for Republican success among Hispanics and, in Gingrich’s, how far the party still has to go after the 1996 election, in which President Clinton received nearly three-fourths of the Hispanic vote.
The Spanish-speaking governor, who got only one-fourth of the Hispanic vote in 1994, has worked hard to cultivate Hispanic support in his first term. He opposed the Gingrich-led House vote in 1996 to make English the nation’s official language and has called for maintaining bilingual education programs that work.
“If the bilingual program serves to teach our children English, then we ought to say, ‘Thank you very much,’ and leave them in place,” Bush said at the convention.
“And if the bilingual program locks someone into Spanish and does not achieve state objectives, then we must say ‘Change the program, eliminate the program,’ ” said Bush, who switched to Spanish several times during his speech.
The delegates, some of whom have fought English-only proposals in their states, roared their approval.
In recent days, Gingrich has expressed opposition to “English-only” legislation that would bar governments from printing official documents in other languages.
Gingrich expressed surprise at being invited to speak.
Gingrich was silent on several issues important to Hispanic groups, including his opposition to the use of statistical sampling to improve the accuracy of the 2000 census.
The Census Bureau contends that sampling will give a truer picture of the size of racial and ethnic minorities.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.