In response to the Commission on Presidential Debates’ decision not to include any Hispanic or African-American moderators in the debates this year, Univision co-anchors Jorge Ramos and María Elena Salinas invited President Obama and Mitt Romney to Miami for two “Meet the Candidates” forums.
Obama’s interview began and ended with the journalists reminding him that, as a candidate, he personally promised Ramos that he would enact comprehensive immigration reform in the first year of his presidency. “Before I continue, I want you to acknowledge that you did not keep your promise,” Ramos said. Obama responded that he made the promise before the financial collapse, and by the time he took office, the country’s economy was in a far more precarious situation than it had been when they had spoken.
Ramos was undeterred, switching to English and repeating his request so that it would not be “lost in translation.” Watch Obama’s response:
Even though Latino Americans overwhelmingly favor Obama (he leads Romney among Latinos by a margin of 70 to 26 percent), the audience at the Univision forum was far warmer toward Romney than Obama – the Republican received multiple standing ovations as he answered Ramos and Salinas’s questions.
In Romney’s interview, Ramos tried several times to get specifics on his immigration reform plan and his plan for “self-deportation.” When he asked Romney for the third time whether he believed Arizona’s SB-1070 immigration law should be used as a model for the nation, the audience booed Ramos. “I have some friends, apparently,” Romney chuckled.
Apparently. Salinas later told Buzzfeed staff writer McKay Coppins that the Romney campaign did some behind-the-scenes work to create enthusiasm for their candidate.
“Salinas told BuzzFeed that tickets for each forum were divided between the network, the respective campaigns, and the University of Miami (which hosted the events) — and she said both campaigns initially agreed to keep the audience comprised mostly of students, in keeping with the events’ education theme.
But after exhausting the few conservative groups on campus, the Romney camp realized there weren’t enough sympathetic students to fill the stands on their night — so they told the network and university that if they weren’t given an exemption to the students-only rule, they might have to ‘reschedule.’
The organizers relented. […] Romney’s team was allowed to bus in rowdy activists from around southern Florida in order to fill the extra seats at their town hall.”
“We were a little bit thrown because it was supposed to be a TV show, it wasn’t a rally,” Salinas told Coppins, describing Romney’s wildly cheering audience. “It was a little bit of disrespect for us.”
In fact, at the end of the debate, you can hear University of Miami president Donna Shalala say, perhaps jokingly, “We threw a great rally for you.”
“You sure do,” Romney replied.
Watch Romney talk about immigration.
Ramos and Salinas asked both candidates for their views on the drug trade and gun trafficking, and the ways in which they would work to fight them with newly-elected president of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto. Ramos also pressed Obama on the Fast and Furious gunwalking scandal. President Obama acknowledged the role American guns played in Latin American drug trade-related violence, but the president avoided taking a stance on gun control in America. (Romney and Obama, in fact, have fairly similar positions on gun control, an issue that is unlikely to feature prominently in this year’s presidential debates).
Salinas asked Romney about his assertion during the primaries that English should be “the official language of the United States.” The Republican Party platform states that “while we encourage the retention and transmission of heritage tongues, we support English as the nation’s official language.” The U.S. does not currently have an official language, and the federal government prints many documents in both Spanish and English. Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, counts both as official languages.
At the end of the interviews, each candidate made a statement to the millions of Latino Americans who tuned in to Univision to watch the interviews. Both Romney and Obama used their time to describe their plans for dealing with the poor economy, using talking points that showed up again this week, in the first presidential debate.