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California Gov. Pete Wilson, describing himself as the Republican that President Clinton "fears the most," formally entered the race for the 1996 presidential nomination Monday.

In a speech with the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York Harbor as a backdrop, Wilson frequently invoked the memory of his immigrant grandmother and said he would fight for welfare reform, a balanced budget and an end to illegal immigration and affirmative action programs.He is the ninth Republican to enter the race, and most political experts give him only a longshot chance to capture the nomination. But Wilson said "I am the Republican the Clinton White House fears the most" as he blasted the president for not making major changes in American life.

He chided Clinton for failing to "end welfare as we know it" and for conducting what he called a weak and waffling foreign policy.

"Bill Clinton said he would end welfare as we know it. One thousand days into his administration, we have spent $33 billion of taxpayer's money on welfare as we know it. One million more people are on it including 600,000 more children. He is extending welfare and he knows it," Wilson said.

He invoked the memory of his Irish immigrant grandmother Kate Barton, whose police officer husband was killed in the line of duty by drug dealers, saying: "I intend to make her proud.. . . Building America is not for the weak or fainthearted."

Known for his support of efforts to stop illegal immigration, Wilson chose the southern tip of Manhattan with the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop to make his formal announcement. It was a way to show that while he is opposed to illegal immigration, he is not against all immigration.

In his speech he said, "There is a right way to come to America and a wrong way. Illegal immigration is not the American way."

Wilson rode to re-election as California governor last year on the back of Proposition 187, a controversial state initiative to eliminate educational and social services for illegal immigrants.