DENVER — Near the end of a campaign dominated by overtures to Colorado’s Hispanic community, GOP Congressman Mike Coffman and Andrew Romanoff are squared off in their final debate — in Spanish.
That’s right: these two white guys took and answered questions in Spanish for 30 minutes Thursday night in a debate televised by Denver’s Univision.
Romanoff, the Democratic former statehouse Speaker, speaks fluent Spanish, which he picked up 25 years ago working for the Peace Corps in Central America.
Coffman, on the other hand, just started learning Spanish more than a year ago, after his heretofore conservative district was re-drawn to include Aurora, a Democrat-leaning Denver suburb with a sizable Hispanic population.
Coffman, who seemed to be speaking mostly from notes, had asked for and received the questions in advance.
The debate itself, a historic first for Colorado, is a boon to the community of Hispanic voters who’ve never heard from the candidates in their native language, and a sign of the community’s rising political relevance.
“The viewers, the audience, they’re going to be able to hear from the candidates in their language, they’re going to be able to understand what they stand for — it’s very important,” said Dr. Rocio Saenz with the group Mi Familia Vota.
“Also, what it says is that the Latinos are a decisive vote.”
During the 30-minute exchange, the candidates mostly stuck to their familiar talking points, with Romanoff hitting Coffman for the House GOP’s blockage of comprehensive immigration reform and for his past statements describing Tom Tancredo as his hero.
Moderators also asked Coffman about his statement just last year that speaking English should be a requirement for U.S. citizenship.
Coffman said that both parties deserve blame for the lack of progress on immigration reform and that he believes that Congress should make President Obama’s Deferred Action program, by which young undocumented immigrants are spared immediate deportation, permanent.
Romanoff also acknowledged that his support for a tough immigration bill in 2006 was a mistake.
At the end of the debate, Romanoff couldn’t help taking a shot at Coffman, telling the audience that his comments are “from my heart…it’s not a script.”