GOP Spanish language presidential debate back on

11/09/07 Mitch E. Perry
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The Miami Herald reported today that most of the Republican candidates for president have agreed to participate in a Spanish language debate at the University of Miami next month.

Two months ago, only John McCain and Duncan Hunter had accepted an invitation from Univision. That forced the U.S.’s biggest Spanish language network to cancel the debate. Earlier that month all the Democrats had participated in a similar forum.

But on Thursday, three of the top GOP candidates -- Rudy Guiliani, Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney -- agreed to take part.

The only candidates not to agree at this point are Mike Huckabee and Tom Tancredo, the immigrant bashing Congressman from Colorado

Patrick Mantiega is editor and publisher of La Gaceta, the weekly Tampa newspaper that publishes in English, Spanish and Italian. He says the Republican candidates have finally seen the light when it comes to courting the Latino vote.

Although organizers say the debate will be about much more than immigration, it will undoubtedly be a central focus. In recent months, the GOP candidates have gone out of their way to criticize each other for being insufficiently tough on undocumented immigrants.

Even John McCain, who was one of the chief supporters of comprehensive immigration reform that was being touted by President Bush, has turned the other cheek, and is speaking a much harsher rhetoric on the issue these days.

For example, McCain last month skipped a vote that would have allowed the so-called Dream Act to move forward in the Senate. McCain was a co-sponsor of the bill, which would have let some undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children earn legal status. He later told the Arizona Republic that he still supports the bill, but said “we’re not going to pass anything through Congress until 2009, and everybody knows it.”

La Gaceta’s Patrick Mantiega says the GOP candidates could be painting themselves into a corner when it comes to immigration.

Hillary Clinton took a hit after announcing that she supported New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer’s plan for giving undocumented immigrants drivers licenses. Several analysts have indicated that Democrats have received a pass so far from the media on immigration.

A poll conducted by Democracy Corps, a group organized by Democratic strategists James Carville and Stan Greenberg, recently discovered that among independent voters, 40 percent said that the borders have been unprotected and illegal immigration is growing. That was compared to 24 percent who said lack of health care was a problem, and 23 percent who said Iraq was.

Manteiga, a Democrat, says he remains unconvinced about Americans' feelings about illegal immigration. He says different results comes from the questions asked in polls.

The GOP Spanish language debate will take place on Sunday, Dec. 9 on the University of Miami campus. It will be televised by Univision.

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