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Kerry, Bush, court Hispanic voters

Democrat blasts president on education

Sen. John Kerry address supporters at a Cinco de Mayo celebration in Los Angeles, California.
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• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
America Votes 2004
Los Angeles (California)
John F. Kerry
George W. Bush

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- On a day when politicians reached out to Hispanic voters, Sen. John Kerry criticized President Bush's record on education Wednesday during a stop in a state with a sizable Latino population.

Bush, said Kerry, is leading the country "in the wrong direction."

"I can move this country in a better direction," Kerry said. "George Bush -- sure, he can make decisions and lead, but look at the direction he's leading us."

Kerry spoke at a festival honoring the Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo.

Bush, who got about a third of the Latino vote in 2000, also marked the holiday in a ceremony in Washington.

"On Cinco de Mayo 2004, more than 130,000 Hispanic-Americans are serving in the United States armed forces," Bush said. "Several of these fine men and women are with us today."

Kerry said Latino voters could be decisive in November, and argued that Bush has betrayed promises to reform immigration laws, civil rights, education and health care.

Schools like those in Los Angeles are struggling to meet the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act, the education reform bill Bush pushed through Congress in 2001, Kerry said, charging that Bush "broke his promise" to help those districts pay for the needed improvements.

"The fact is, he hasn't tried to fight for that money, because this president believes it was more important to give people who earn more than $200,000 a year another tax cut," Kerry said. "I believe it is more important to make those dreams of young Americans come true and invest in education in the United States of America."

Hispanics make up roughly 32 percent of California's population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

New poll

Meanwhile, a new Quinnipiac University poll has found that Bush's approval rating hit a record low of 46 percent.

But Kerry appeared to gain nothing from the president's slide, with registered voters surveyed preferring Bush to the presumptive Democratic nominee by 43 percent to 40 percent. Consumer advocate Ralph Nader drew the support of 6 percent of voters surveyed.

Since March, Bush's campaign has spent an unprecedented $50 million-plus on television ads attacking Kerry's Senate record on defense and economic issues.

But his administration has been beset by a sharp increase in U.S. combat deaths in Iraq in the past month and by widespread Arab outrage at photographs of Iraqi prisoners being abused at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad.

The president gave interviews to two Arabic-language news networks Wednesday to condemn the abuse, which he called "abhorrent" and unrepresentative of American values.

"The America I know cares about every individual," he said. "The America I know has sent troops into Iraq to promote freedom; good, honorable citizens that are helping the Iraqis every day."(Full story)

In the last poll, released March 24, Bush led Kerry 46 percent to 40 percent, with Nader at 6 percent.

Despite the polls and published reports indicating some unease about his candidacy among Democratic face cards, Kerry said he was not concerned about his campaign.

"We're six months from the election, and I like where we are today," he said.

Poll respondents were nearly evenly split on how Bush has handled his job in office, with 46 percent approving of his performance and 47 percent disapproving -- the lowest approval rating the president has received in the poll's history.

And with more than 760 U.S. troops killed in Iraq since the invasion, and troop losses totaling 126 last month, the Quinnipiac poll found support for the war was slipping.

More respondents said they still believe going to war with Iraq was right than wrong. But fewer than half, 48 percent, said the invasion was the right thing to do, while 45 percent said it was wrong -- a sharp drop from the university's last poll, which found 54 percent support for the war.

The White House also announced Wednesday that it will seek another $25 billion from Congress for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.(Full story) The Pentagon recently said nearly 140,000 U.S. troops are expected to remain in Iraq through 2005, more than previously planned.

Bush has blasted Kerry for voting against last fall's $87 billion supplemental appropriation request, launching campaign ads that accuse him of opposing necessary equipment for troops in the field.

Kerry has said he opposed paying for the Iraq war with borrowed money while wealthy Americans were getting tax cuts, and said Bush's new request shows American troops are still short of necessary equipment.

"These are decisions that should have been made at the beginning, not now," he said.

Only 31 percent of respondents in the Quinnipiac poll said the administration had done a good or excellent job planning for the conflict, while two-thirds -- 67 percent -- said the planning was poor or "not so good."

The poll surveyed 2,016 registered voters nationwide between April 26 and May 3. It had a margin of error of 2.2 percentage points.

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