CHULA VISTA, CA–Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush extended a hand of friendship to the nation's Hispanic community Monday, leaving a larger-than-customary tip for waiter Ramon Gonzalez after eating at La Galleria, a trendy Chula Vista bistro.

Bush speaks during a campaign stop in Chula Vista, CA, where he courted Hispanics with a $20 tip.

Bush–who was lunching with aide de camp Warren Hewitt and campaign contributor Kenneth Boehm, CEO of telecommunications giant Pacific Bell–left a $20 gratuity on a bill of $83.42. Working out to approximately 24 percent, it is the largest tip the Hispanic community has ever received from a Republican presidential candidate.

Gonzalez, accepting Bush's generous overture on behalf of his people, thanked the candidate politely as he left the restaurant and invited him to visit again. Gonzalez said he intends to share the gift with other members of the Hispanic community, employing the standard food-service-industry split among waiter, busboy, and dishwasher.

"This generous tip is my way of saying thank you to the Latino community for its distinguished service during the course of this lunch," Bush said. "It is my way of acknowledging the many valuable things America's Hispanics bring to the table–from appetizers to drinks to main courses–which are vital to the smooth progress of our nation's meals."

Republican insiders are praising the gesture, noting that Bush has sent "a message of appreciation to a too-often-overlooked ethnic group."

The overture to the Latino community.

"By leaving a twenty on the table for this Mexican boy, Bush is telling Hispanics, 'I understand how hard your people have worked over the years to keep our water glasses full,'" GOP strategist Allen White said. "At the same time, by making this offering in tip form, he reinforces his campaign slogan of 'Prosperity With Purpose.' In other words, he sends the strong message that continued good service on the part of Hispanics will be recognized and rewarded."

Despite such praise, Bush's rivals for the Republican presidential nomination were quick to denounce the unusually large gratuity.

"I have always favored an across-the-board flat tip of 15 percent, regardless of the waiter's race," Steve Forbes said. "Gov. Bush's tip of 24 percent is not only fiscally irresponsible; it smacks of political grandstanding."

Fellow Republican candidate John McCain was equally troubled by the precedent set by the Bush tip. "If we give the Hispanics 24 percent," McCain said, "then the Asians will want 24 percent, too. Then the blacks. Then it snowballs out of control to the point where regular Americans suddenly can't afford to eat anywhere with table service, let alone get their cars detailed or their hedges trimmed. Gov. Bush has opened up a real Pandora's Box here."

Speaking to reporters at a campaign stop at a tractor factory in Nashua, NH, Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore also had words for Bush.

Waiter Ramon Gonzalez

"Mr. Bush is trying to tip too little, too late," Gore said. "For years, he cheated the Hispanic community, calculating his tip by doubling the tax, even when dining in states where the restaurant tax is a mere six percent. Look at the record: He consistently undertipped Hispanics during his tenure as governor of Texas. And now he is trying to make up for all of that with a single $20 bill. My fellow Americans, I do not believe that, in his heart of hearts, Mr. Bush knows how much to tip."

Gore later added that tipping should be "colorblind," reflecting only the quality of service received, and noted that many Hispanics are not waiters.

Bush, while declining to respond specifically to his opponents' remarks, said he stands by his commitment to Hispanics.

"As the fastest-growing ethnic group in America, Hispanics will continue to make their presence felt in all walks of restaurant life," Bush said. "Whether you see them grinning while bringing the enchiladas at a Mexican restaurant or quietly and politely clearing the table at an expensive Italian eatery, I would urge all Americans to follow my lead and reach out to them with a couple of extra bucks."