Democrats' debate is broadcast in Spanish
Iraq, immigration dominate evening
CORAL GABLES, Fla. - Senator Hillary Clinton insisted last night that it is time to start pulling US troops out of Iraq, as she and others seeking the Democratic presidential nomination debated the war anew on the eve of a much-awaited assessment by US commanding General David Petraeus.
In the first presidential debate ever broadcast in Spanish, Bill Richardson challenged Clinton to get every US soldier out, not just some of them.
"I'd bring them all home within six to eight months," the New Mexico governor said in the debate, which took place in south Florida and was broadcast on Univision, the nation's largest Spanish-language network. "There is a basic difference between all of us here . . . This is a fundamental issue."
Clinton said that a report being presented in Washington by Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker this week would not change the basic problem that there is no military solution in Iraq.
"I believe we should start bringing our troops home," she said during the debate at the University of Miami. "We need to quit refereeing their civil war and bring our troops home as soon as possible."
That the Democratic Party held the debate in Coral Gables is the clearest sign yet of the growing influence of Hispanic voters. Candidates are reaching out to Hispanics with an intensity that speaks to the importance of the nation's largest and fastest-growing minority group in the campaign.
Anchors Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas posed questions in Spanish and the candidates had earpieces to hear simultaneous translations into English. The candidates' responses were simultaneously translated into Spanish for broadcast, and English-speaking viewers could watch using the closed caption service on their televisions.
Univision's late entry to the field of networks hosting such high-profile political events was evident last night. Reporters from around the world who came to Florida to cover the debate were left with no audio feed in the room where they were placed outside the debate hall, for example.
Richardson, one of two candidates who speak fluent Spanish, objected to the debate rules that required all candidates to answer in English. The rule was designed to make sure that no candidate had an advantage in appealing to the Spanish-speaking audience.
"I'm disappointed today that 43 million Latinos in this country, for them not to hear one of their own speak Spanish, is unfortunate," said Richardson. "In other words, Univision is promoting English-only in this debate."
Immigration was a leading topic. The candidates were asked why they supported a wall along the Mexican border - and not a similar fence along the US-Canadian border - a question that seemed to catch them slightly off-guard.
Most avoided answering directly, saying simply that they believe security is a key part of a comprehensive immigration plan.
"I do favor more security on the border and in some cases a physical border," Clinton said.
Senator Barack Obama of Illinois spoke of his father's experience as an immigrant and cited his support for the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the US Senate last year.
Richardson, who has opposed the wall, said he would commit to comprehensive changes in the first year.