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Ballot Box: Postmortem; Courting the disabled

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President Bush made school choice a campaign issue less for ideological reasons than because it was the one education issue that allowed him to draw a distinction between himself and Gov. Bill Clinton, Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander told reporters last week.

"It was the one issue that exposed a leadership flaw,'' Mr. Alexander said at a lunch meeting after the election. "It showed what kind of leader [Mr. Clinton] would be.''

The Secretary claimed during the campaign that Mr. Clinton had expressed interest in the idea of private school vouchers in a letter to a voucher proponent, then opposed the idea to win the support of the teachers' unions.

"It was the one issue on which there was the most disagreement,'' Mr. Alexander said, adding that Mr. Bush "had a lot of agreement with Governor Clinton and other Democratic governors'' on many education issues.

Mr. Alexander also said the Republicans' claims to be the party of "family values'' fell flat because "we didn't talk about it in the right way.''

"From the convention on, we seemed to be making lists of people whose values we don't agree with, rather than discussing values we share,'' he said.

Promising to expand educational opportunities for disabled students in regular classrooms, the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign made unprecedented efforts to woo voters with disabilities in the closing weeks of the Presidential contest.

The Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee sent a series of letters to disability-rights advocates promising a program of "inclusion not exclusion'' for children and adults with disabilities.

One letter announced the formation of a "disability constituency office'' in the national committee. Others, signed by Mr. Clinton, promised aggressive enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act and pledged to insure that children with disabilities receive "a first-rate education, tailored to their unique needs but provided alongside their classmates who do not have disabilities.''

Disability groups also received letters, generated by the national committee, that described Democrats' roles in passing the disability-rights law.

Mr. Bush often cited the two-year-old law, which guarantees the disabled broad civil rights and access to public establishments, as a major accomplishment of his Administration.

"Both parties have historically taken this vote for granted, and there are 43 million people with disabilities,'' said Jennifer Ley, who is the assistant coordinator of the D.N.C.'s new disability liaison office.--J.M. & D.V.

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