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Will GOP Candidates Get Lost in Translation?

The Univision debate stage when the Democrats faced off in Sept. (Getty).

Republican candidates will step onto what could be unfriendly territory this weekend as they face off on the nation's largest Spanish-language network.

After taking heat for failing to show up for a debate slated for September, this Sunday the Republican candidates will take the stage in Miami to address issues of importance to the Hispanic community, including immigration and Latin American foreign policy. All the candidates should be there, that is, except for Congressman Tom Tancredo, a staunch opponent of illegal immigration who has referred to Miami as "a third-world country" and put out a release today stating his intention to boycott the debate.

"It is the law that to become a naturalized citizen of this country you must have knowledge and understanding of English, including a basic ability to read, write, and speak the language," the statement said. "So what may I ask are our presidential candidates doing participating in a Spanish speaking debate? Pandering comes to mind."

What Tancredo deems "pandering" others call a necessary part of an election where Hispanics, who make up 15 percent of the population, are expected to comprise about 9 percent of the electorate.

Terse rhetoric around illegal immigration, a subject which had Republican candidates posturing to out tough one another on the issue at the CNN/YouTube debate last week, will provide fodder for Univision's moderators. Network anchor Jorge Ramos has called for providing legal status to undocumented immigrants and his co-moderator Maria Elena Salinas wrote in August that the Republican candidates are engaged in a battle of "the anti-immigrants."

That's a battle the candidates may tone down for Sunday, saving their most pointed critique not for illegal immigration, but rather focusing on Cuba's Fidel Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, who are both unpopular with many Latinos in the U.S.

In a memo sent out on Wednesday, Al Cardenas--Mitt Romney's point-man on Hispanic outreach--outlined his strategy this way: "Romney will be able to make clear what he believes and has campaigned on - that legal immigration is a great source of strength for America, but it cannot remain so if we as a nation do not stop illegal immigration. On Sunday, Mitt Romney will leave no doubt that he is not anti-immigrant."

But even that may not be enough to bring back the Hispanic voters that largely defected from the Republican party in the 2006 mid-term elections after 40 percent of them voted for President Bush in 2004. (This year, even long-time Republican party image maker Lionel Sosa grew fed up with the anti-immigration rhetoric, which has said bordered on anti-Hispanic, within the party's ranks. He's backing Democrat Bill Richardson's campaign.)

According to a report out by the Pew Hispanic Center this week , "57 percent of Hispanic registered voters now call themselves Democrats or say they lean to the Democratic Party, while just 23 percent align with the Republican Party, meaning there is now a 34 percentage point gap in partisan affiliation among registered Latinos. In July, 2006, the same gap was just 21 percentage points, whereas back in 1999, it had been 33 percentage points."

When the Univision debate is over, Republicans will have had their shot to speak to Hispanics but there may be no winner on the stage.

--Krissah Williams

By Washington Post editors  |  December 7, 2007; 3:03 PM ET
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Did you watch the Univision Republican Presidential Debate?


Posted by: jeffboste | December 9, 2007 8:19 PM | Report abuse

Immigration is not an issue, illegal aliens are the issue. Uncontrolled inflation of the work force, overloaded social infrastructue, and esculation of violent crimes are the issues. Survival of the fittest in a third world atmosphere is not how our people organised this society and to live here you better respect our ways or you may find survival difficult if not impossible.

Posted by: anOPINIONATEDsob | December 8, 2007 7:47 PM | Report abuse

Most of the educated world understands the importance of connotation and not just denotation. Even a concept like "hate" differs in connotation between languages as closely related as English and German. It is mostly not possible to translate connotation and therefore our political debate needs to be in English with the normally associated connotations of American speakers of English. Who knows what connotations thet lead to incredible misunderstanding and confusion will arise. This is the danger of multi linguistic nations. Tom Tancredo understands this and refuses to pander for votes. The other candidates are either too uneducated culturally, pandering or both. And I suggest that both is the probable correct answer in most cases.

Posted by: jrwun | December 8, 2007 7:24 PM | Report abuse

As long as the GOPs maintain the shrill, bigoted tone to their "discussion" of issues related to our Hispanic brothers and sisters, the GOP will lose their support to the Democrats.

In the meantime, we Democrats need to be bold enough to create a coherent, cohesive policy that doesn't rely on sound bites. If, in fact, immigration is a real issue -- and you can sense that I think it is more of a wedge -- let's resolve it without 1930's style round-ups and rail cars. The parallels to that time in history when Jews were the problem and the "final solution" was the answer are eerily similar to the cries for the 12 million or so Hispanic immigrants to "shipped" back across the border. It's a page of history none of us should reconsider.

Posted by: jade7243 | December 7, 2007 9:16 PM | Report abuse

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