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U.S. Hispanics want more than lip service

WASHINGTON — Click on the Web sites of the national political parties or some of the Democratic presidential candidates and you can read their statements in Spanish.

Listen to John Kerry stumping for votes, and you might hear the Massachusetts senator speaking Spanish; he's been practicing with language tapes the past few years.

Like the 2000 White House rivals George W. Bush and Al Gore, who occasionally made their appeals in Spanish, the current candidates are trying to burnish their images with Hispanic voters. Leaders in the community, however, expect more than just lip service.

"Both parties have to fight for the hearts and minds of Hispanic voters," said Gabriela Lemus, a policy specialist for the League of United Latin American Citizens. "It's not enough to speak Spanish to us. We're being acknowledged, but window dressing isn't going to do it."

Hispanics expect significant progress from the Bush administration or concrete proposals from the Democratic candidates on core issues such as education, employment, immigration and health care. Specifically, Hispanics want:

—Access to quality education and the ability to get their children into college. About two-thirds of Hispanics in this country are 25 or younger.

—Resumption of talks with Mexico about immigration policy and inclusion of other Latin American countries in those talks, as well as access to citizenship and benefits for immigrants who are already working in this country or are in this country trying to find work.

—Quality jobs and access to quality health care.

The Hispanic vote was crucial to President Bush's election in 2000. Previous Republican presidential nominees failed to break 30 percent among Hispanic voters — Bob Dole garnered 21 percent in 1996 and Bush's father got 25 percent in 1992. The president secured 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2000.

In return for that support, Hispanics expected the administration to push changes in immigration rules.

Will Lester covers politics and polling for The Associated Press.