Saturday, September 21, 2019

Democrats roll out the Spanish at the debates in order to appeal to Latino voters

Some of the Democratic candidates touted their Spanish-speaking skills in the debates, impressing some Latinos but leaving others in a huff.

The español rolled off the tongues of some candidates better than others but was clearly an attempt by candidates to reach out to the Latino electorate and a nod to the “Latinidad” of Miami, where the debate was held and where 70 percent of residents are Latino. Beto O’Rourke trotted out his Spanish first, later followed by Sen. Cory Booker.

Sonia Hernandez Hogeland, who was watching the debate at a Democratic Party watch party in San Antonio, thought at first the use of Spanish was “pandering.” But after watching Cory Booker try to get his message across in Spanish, her opinion changed; “I thought, ‘Listen Latinos! You’re important! Your voice is important to these people! I hope Latinos take heed and flex the muscles we have earned,” she said.

Rebecca McDonald-Enghauser, 48, a registered nurse in Detroit who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, said she was glad “they’re adding that to the debate.” “Having them speak Spanish will motivate [Latinos] to vote,” she said. “It makes Latinos feel like they are part of the community. Like the candidates understand us and what we are going through.”

But in a recent poll, 76 percent of the Latino eligible voters surveyed said they mostly wanted a candidate who values diversity and brings people together. Amanda Rentería, who served as Hillary Clinton’s national political director in 2016, was not impressed with the candidates throwing out Spanish.

She said usually when Spanish is used it’s a plus and candidates get credit, but she said this time it felt like pandering. She did give points to Julián Castro for waiting until his wrap-up at the end of the debate to show that he can speak Spanish; “He was the only Latino on stage and two others were using Spanish, so his calculation to use it at the end made sense for him. People may have noticed that the only Latino on stage didn’t use it, but then he did, so that story is gone. It was an effective calculation for him,” Rentería said.

NBC NEWS