Univision Debate: Still Si or No

Clinton likely to participate; Richardson, others undecided

Hillary Clinton the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination told Univision last week she wouldn't appear in the Spanish-language network's debate. By last Friday it appeared she might show up after all.

Fabiola Rodriguez-Ciampoli, director of Hispanic Communications for the Hillary Clinton campaign, first said Clinton's reluctance to participate was because she has agreed to only appear at Democratic National Committee-sponsored events. Univision's isn't.

But late on Friday, sources close to Clinton pointed to a Miami Herald blog that said Clinton changed her mind about attending the Sept. 9 debate. Univision plans a Republican candidate debate for Sept. 16.

It's not lost on any of the candidates that deciding what to do about illegal Mexican immigration is a major divisive issue in this country. The planned 90-minute debates likely would be dominated by questions about immigration.

Sen. Bill Richardson, who grew up in Mexico City and speaks like a native, eagerly agreed to attend, but then became miffed because he and other candidates won't be allowed to speak Spanish. He's still undecided.

In order to give all the candidates a “level playing field,” a Univision spokesman explains, the candidates would have to give their answers in English, which would be simultaneously translated into Spanish for Univision's audience. The questions would also be in Spanish, translated to English for the candidates.

Richardson Campaign Communications Director Pahl Shipley said that Univision had made no mention of the no-Spanish rule for the Spanish-language debate when he initially agreed.

“It is a Spanish language network, and candidates who speak Spanish should not be penalized because other candidates do not,” Shipley says

Sen. Barack Obama and John Edwards, and other Democratic hopefuls haven't said publicly whether they'll attend. But if Clinton does, they almost surely will. As of Friday, Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd, who also speaks fluent Spanish, had definitely agreed to appear.

Democratic Party sources suggest the reason candidates were not jumping on the idea was that by the time Univision extended the offer in June, the six so-called debates sanctioned by the DNC had already been set, suggesting the TV net was late to the party.

Clinton's campaign did not comment on why she is confining herself to those six “debates,” but one likely reason is that all candidates would like to prevent a flood of debate requests on the local and state as well as national level.

But she and others participate in other candidate “forums,” some for specific demographic groups. For example, Clinton, Richardson, Obama and Edwards all appeared at a gay forum sponsored by the Logo network last week.

If the Univision plan does not pan out, there will still be Spanish-language debates, of a sort. CNN's debates also air on CNN En Español, and NBC/MSNBC's two fall debates will be simulcast on Telemundo. But Univision's forum—it was not calling it a debate, though that did not matter in the Clinton tent—would feature Hispanics asking questions on issues specific to the Hispanic community, including immigration and health care.

Univision said its outlets would reach 99% of Hispanic population via its 62 TV stations, Website and radio stations—if it happens.