Univisión, the most popular Spanish-language television network in the United States, has invited the Democrats and Republicans running for president to South Florida for the nation’s first-ever presidential debates conducted in Spanish.
Kick-starting the campaign after the traditional Labor Day holiday, the Democrats would face off Sept. 9, while the Republicans would meet one week later on Sept. 16 at the Bank United Center at the University of Miami.
Simultaneous translation would be provided to the candidates and viewers, creating a United Nations-like atmosphere on national television.
Of the 18 declared candidates so far, only two Democrats are known to speak Spanish fluently: Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut.
“Hispanics will play a pivotal role in this crucial presidential election, and Univisión is excited and honored by the prospect of hosting this historic event,” said Univisión spokeswoman Stephanie Pillersdorf. “The time is now for candidates to speak to the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. electorate, as so many of the issues facing our nation today affect the Hispanic community directly.”
The invitation comes as the debate over immigration boils over on the campaign trail and in Washington, where the Senate is weighing a plan to allow millions of illegal workers to earn citizenship.
It’s unclear if the candidates, who have already committed to a series of debates over the next eight months, will accept the invitation.
Univisión is the fifth-largest network in the country, behind the major broadcast outlets but in front of cable channels like CNN and MSNBC, which have already aired debates. Univisión ranks No. 1 some nights among young adults ages 18-34.
Last week, Univisión averaged 3.5 million viewers.
Shalala, a former Cabinet member under President Bill Clinton, helped lure one of the three official 2004 general election debates to the campus, attracting media from time zones all over the world.
“Miami is sort of a natural place to hold debates of this kind because of its diversity and political importance,” said Rudy Fernandez, the university’s vice president of government affairs.