Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who has made appealing to Hispanic voters a centerpiece of his campaign, is drawing heat this week for skipping the national convention of La Raza, being held in Houston.

Raul Yzaguirre, president of La Raza, told reporters Bush has made "a terrible mistake" in skipping the convention, and said Bush already may be taking Hispanic voters for granted. "It's a missed opportunity for him to address the largest network of Latino leaders in the country."

Not so, said Karen Hughes, Bush's communications director. "The governor . . . goes on vacation every year at this time and spends it with his wife and daughters in Kennebunkport," she said. "He sends greetings [to La Raza] and wishes them well, but he's unfortunately unable to attend."

Bush also recently skipped meetings of the League of United Latin American Citizens and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, and showed up briefly at the Unity convention of minority journalists in Seattle only after he was publicly criticized for planning to skip it, even though he was campaigning in Seattle at the time.

Hughes said Bush spoke to LULAC last year and generally does not appear for two consecutive years before the same group. She insisted that criticism that Bush is snubbing certain groups by not attending their conventions is unfair. "His message is fair and inclusive and is designed to reach out to all Americans," she said.

Despite their vacation, however, Bush and his wife, Laura, will be campaigning during their days away from Texas. Bush will appear in Iowa and New Hampshire; his wife will campaign in Iowa. "Those are both important early states, and it is important for him as he tries to win his party's nomination to speak to voters in Iowa and New Hampshire," Hughes said.

Alexander Ads to Warn: Presidency `Too Important to Be Bought'

Republican presidential candidate Lamar Alexander has decided to use some of his dwindling resources for campaign ads in Iowa that he hopes will improve his standing in next month's GOP straw poll in Ames.

"This just in," a mock television correspondent reports as the ad opens. "The Iowa caucuses have been canceled. An auction is underway on the White House lawn." The scene shifts to a group of men in cowboy boots, smoking cigars, apparently bidding for the Republican nomination -- a not-so-subtle dig at Bush, whose fat campaign war chest has become a target of Alexander's in recent days.

In the ad, Alexander warns that the presidency is "too important to be bought or inherited; it ought to be earned."

Alexander adviser Brian Kennedy, who refused to say how much Alexander will spend on the commercials, said the ads will air in Iowa starting Thursday and continue until the Aug. 14 straw poll. "The attention around the straw poll has focused the electorate," he said, "so it's a good time to advertise."

In a Dig at First Lady, Giuliani Raises Money in Arkansas

Whoever said New Yorkers were subtle?

New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani traveled to Arkansas yesterday to raise a little money for his possible Senate campaign against first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in a dig aimed at the fact that the first lady hopes to represent a state in which she has never lived.

"[Giuliani] has never been here before," Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) told reporters at a news conference with the mayor. "He's never worked here; he's never lived here. Today he will be announcing his candidacy for some significant major office in Arkansas."

Mocking the first lady, who is on a summer-long "listening tour" of New York, Giuliani said he would be doing a maximum amount of listening and "a lot of exploring," but added, "Mainly, I am going there to raise money."

Meanwhile, Giuliani sent out an letter to potential contributors that also played the carpetbagger card against Clinton, the Associated Press reported. "To me, New York is not a political stepping stone," the mayor said in the appeal. "New York is my life. So the question is not what New York can do for Mrs. Clinton, but what in the world can Mrs. Clinton do for the people of New York?"

Giuliani said he would need lots of money if he decides to run for the Senate because the first lady's "war chest would be overflowing from every left-wing group you can think of."