Hispanics to Hear from GOP; Top Candidates Join Spanish-Language Debate

Article excerpt

Byline: Stephen Dinan, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The top Republican presidential candidates reversed course and have agreed to take part in a Spanish-language debate next month aimed at Hispanic voters, setting up an acrimonious clash over illegal aliens, an issue roiling the Republican primary.

Fred Thompson agreed Thursday to the debate, igniting a dash to sign up by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Sen. John McCain of Arizona already had accepted the debate, to be broadcast by Univision, the country's largest Spanish-language television network.

It comes even as Mr. Thompson and Mr. Romney are sparring over who takes the toughest line on illegal entry, with Mr. Romney releasing a new television commercial yesterday laying out his stance.

"As president, I'll oppose amnesty, cut funding for sanctuary cities and secure our borders," he says in the ad, which will run in the early-voting states of New Hampshire and Iowa. "Legal immigration is great, but illegal immigration- that's got to stop."

That message could clash with the debate's target Hispanic audience. Polls have found that many Hispanics say the tenor of the immigration debate has increased discrimination against them.

The debate is scheduled for Dec. 9. Candidates will answer questions in English, and their answers will be translated into Spanish for broadcast.

Democrats held the first national Spanish-language debate in September, also broadcast by Univision. Questions in that debate included ones about more fencing on the U.S.-Mexico border and English-language requirements and whether candidates would suspend immigration raids, in addition to the standard fare about the Iraq war and education.

The top Republicans have been criticized for failing to show up at a September forum aimed at black voters and, until now, for refusing the Univision forum. And not all of the Republicans seeking the nomination will show up.

Rep. Tom Tancredo, a staunch opponent of illegal entry, won't be attending, said his spokesman, Alan Moore. The Colorado Republican routinely criticizes what he sees as the Balkanization of America and places part of the blame on groups that insist on speaking languages other than English for public purposes. …