First Spanish-Language Debate Focuses On Iraq, Immigration Issues

Sunday, September 9th 2007, 7:07 pm
By: News On 6

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) _ Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton said Sunday it's time to start bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq, no matter how optimistic an assessment President Bush's leading advisers give of the war there.

In the first presidential debate ever broadcast in Spanish, her primary campaign rival Bill Richardson challenged Clinton to get every U.S. soldier out, not just some of them.

``I'd bring them all home within six to eight months,'' the New Mexico 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 won't 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 here is the clearest sign yet of the growing influence of Hispanic voters. Candidates in both parties 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 Sunday 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 candidate 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, the governor of New Mexico. ``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 U.S.-Canadian border _ a question that seemed to catch them slightly off-guard.

Most avoided answering directly, saying simply that they believed security was a key part of comprehensive immigration reform.

``I do favor more security on the border and in some cases a physical border because that has to be part of securing our borders,'' Clinton said.

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama spoke of his father's experience as an immigrant and noted that he supported the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the U.S. Senate last year.

Richardson, who has opposed the wall, said he would commit to comprehensive reform in the first year.

``If you're going to build a 12 foot wall. You know what's going to happen? A lot of 13-foot ladders.''

But there are strong feelings against the Iraq war among Hispanics, so that topic lead the debate, with the moderators noting that two-thirds of Hispanics support a withdrawal from Iraq. Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich was loudly applauded for saying he would pull troops out.

Obama aligned himself with Kucinich.

``I was a strong opponent of the war, as Dennis was,'' Obama said, adding that President Bush is trying to make it appear that the 35,000 troop surge earlier this year has had an impact.

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards said he's concerned the Petraeus report ``will basically be a sales job by the White House.''

Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, recently returned from a trip to Iraq, skipped the debate to prepare for a Foreign Relations Committee hearing that he is scheduled to chair Tuesday on the Petraeus report.

Univision invited the Republican candidates for a similar forum, but only Arizona Sen. John McCain has accepted.