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The politics of race has been the most dramatic backdrop to the 1992 election season. The Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas raised messy race and gender issues. President Bush's detractors tried to lay blame for the flare-up of racial tensions in the May Los Angeles riots to the president's neglect of domestic issues. Two significant pieces of civil rights legislation were passed during the past four years: the sweeping Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Civil Rights Act of 1991. The new civil rights bill was bitterly contested legislation that countered Supreme Court decisions making it harder for workers to bring and win job discrimination lawsuits. It also allows limited damage payments for victims of harassment and other intentional discrimination based on sex, religion, or disability. BUSH

The Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill battle may have nullified any political points he might have scored for nominating a black to the Supreme Court. He finds fault with most affirmative action programs, calling them "racial quotas."

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On these grounds, he vetoed an early version of the Civil Rights Act, causing a major rift with some black leaders. Has appointed several high-profile blacks, including General Colin Powell as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

He wholeheartedly threw himself behind the Americans with Disabilities Act, willing to risk alienating his private-sector supporters who fear being saddled with expensive compliance measures. CLINTON

Caused uncomfortable relations with the Rev. Jesse Jackson when he criticized rap singer Sister Souljah for encouraging violence.

The Rev. Jackson, who is campaigning for Gov. Bill Clinton, is still very cool in his comments about the Democratic candidate.

Governor Clinton has been liberal in appointing blacks to the Arkansas judiciary and his governor's staff, which is 28 percent minority and at one time included four black cabinet members.

But he hasn't been able to win passage of a civil rights law in Arkansas, one of only two states without one.

Opposes racial quotas, but supports the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and expanded civil rights for homosexuals (with exemptions for religious organizations).

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He strongly supports the death penalty, which - because it is disproportionately meted out to black offenders - is considered by some liberals to be a form of racial discrimination. PEROT

His biggest political gaffe involved race. He made references to "your people" in an address to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and, as a result, was branded "condescending" and "insensitive" by many blacks.

He says each person should be judged on merit and that discrimination based on gender, race, or sexual orientation should not be tolerated. He speaks negatively about affirmative action.

"I am not closing my eyes to the real world. I realize that some groups have advantages and that others have disadvantages, but we don't pull anyone up by pulling somebody else down," he says.

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