Dubya's Old College Try

It never rains in California, unless you are a Republican candidate for president.

Texas Governor George W. Bush just ended a three-day campaign swing through the Golden State during which he had to work hard to stay on message. While death penalty protestors dogged him, a new statewide poll showed him trailing Vice President Al Gore by 11 points, the biggest spread so far.

On Wednesday, the former oilman with longtime ties to oil producers in Texas was asked more about soaring gas prices than his proposal to spend federal money to bring computers into schools. And another state poll showed that less than half of Californians believe Bush's views on the issues resemble their own.

The trip was supposed to be about education, a topic that ranks just as high in California as anywhere else in the country. At a stop at the PUENTE Learning Center, a private center that teaches mostly Hispanic adults and children, Bush told students, "The great challenge facing America is whether or not all people have access to new technology." His proposal would spend $80 million a year to match current federal grants for more than 2,000 centers like the one Bush visited in Los Angeles.

In a Field Poll released Wednesday, 95 percent of Californians listed improving education as being "very" or "somewhat" important to them. The issue was second to keeping the economy strong and making "good appointments" to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The poll, published by the non-partisan Field Institute, also found that 59 percent of California voters feel that Gore's views on the issues are very or somewhat close to their own, while 37 percent said the vice president's views were not close to their own. Forty-nine percent said Bush represented their views, and nearly as many, 45 percent, said he didn't. The numbers parallels voter registration in California, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 46 percent to 35 percent.

If Bush can not win the state and its 54 electoral votes, the Republican Party hopes he will at least turn the tide here for the GOP, especially among Hispanic voters. Latinos make up 30 percent of the state's population now and are projected to make up almost 50 percent of the population by the year 2040.

But Bush lost to Gore by a 3-to-1 margin among Latinos in the California's open primary last March, according to exit polls. And this week's Field Poll showed Gore leading by 64 percent to 25 percent among that group.

Bush has worked hard in the state to court Latinos, with numerous cultural events and Spanish-language ads, one of which features his nephew George P. Bush, whose mother is of Mexican descent. But as the governor himself has said, his job will be tough in California because of the "R" next to his party label.

The all-Hispanic audience at Wednesday's event included several adult students who said they wouldn't vote for Bush because he is a member of the Republican Party that pushed the now-defunct Propositio 187, which cut off government services to illegal immigrants.

"Some of my daughter's friends were kept from school because of Prop 187," said Aurora Moreno, 63, an adult English and computer student. "He says he's against it, but you never know. They say a lot of nice things, the politicians."