Democrat John Kerry (search) has the edge over President Bush (search) among Hispanics but his lead is a far cry from the commanding advantage Al Gore had in the 2000 election, according to a poll released Monday.

The presumptive Democratic nominee led Bush 48 percent to 38 percent among Hispanics overall, and 52 percent to 39 percent among registered Hispanic voters who have cast ballots in past elections, according to the Pew Hispanic Center poll.

In 2000, Democrat Gore led Bush among Hispanics 62 percent to 35 percent, according to exit polls.

Hispanics represent the fastest growing minority, especially in critical swing states such as New Mexico, Florida and Nevada, and the two candidates have targeted their votes. Republican strategists say they need to increase Bush's percentage among Hispanics to 40 percent or more this year.

Gore narrowly won New Mexico in 2000; Bush won Arizona, Colorado and Nevada while capturing Florida by a razor-thin margin. Democrats typically have an advantage among Mexican Americans in Western states, while Republicans tend to fare better among Cuban Americans, who make up almost half of the expected Hispanic voters in Florida.

The poll of 1,316 Hispanics was conducted Feb. 11-March 11 by International Communications Research of Media, Pa. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.