Who Won the Univison Democratic Presidential Forum?

Univision just completed its first ever Foro Presidencial Democrata (Democratic Presidential Forum) and my quick assessment is that it was a huge success. (Click here for Univision's Destino 2008 containing video from tonight's debate.)

Here's why:

1) Finally, candidates for president of the United States were asked to respond to questions of major concern to Latinos. Candidates were asked about immigration reform, the US Wall against Mexico, the US-Iraq War, the mortgage crisis, Latin American relations, universal health care, anti-Latino racism, etc. Bravo!!

2) The moderators--journalists Jorge Ramos and María Elena Salinas--were excellent. Not only did they set and enforce clear rules but they asked tough questions. For example: Do you support making Spanish the America's 2nd national language? Why a wall between the US and Mexico and not one on the US-Canada border? Is Hugo Chavez a dictator? And would you have relations with Venezuela? etc. The format was brisk but fair. And the moderators operated like a well-oiled team.

3) The debate set-up--that is, the production quality, stage set-up, graphics, sound and the use of the University of Miami--was terrific.

4) The simultaneous translations worked. I was a bit distracted by hearing both the candidate and the translators speak at the same time, but the translations were immediate and dead-on.

What I didn't care for was the use of separate translators: Obama was translated by one male, Gravel by another, Hillary by a female, etc. There's probably a reason for doing it that way but I found it problematic. Not only were the accents different for each translator--causing me to adjust repeatedly, but it seems unfair. Why? Because one candidate's translator may speak in a more common accent and/or may have a more appealing speaking voice. For example, I found the translator for Obama to have a difficult accent and an imperial tone to his voice. Whereas, the translator for Clinton had common accent and a nice tone.

In terms of the candidates themselves, it seemed that the unfamiliar format required a bit of adjustment at first. Richardson and Kucinich were the most comfortable. Clinton was her usual steady self. But Obama was surprisingly stiff and uncomfortable. Aided by a cold translator, Obama's performance may have been the most disappointing.

Here is my quick assessment of the candidate performances:

Richardson was among family and his demeanor showed it. He scored points by insisting on speaking a bit of Spanish--even though it was against the rules, and when he mentioned brave Latinos fighting for America, while at home the government seeks to dehumanize immigrant workers. A-

Kucinich's ability to speak with passion and to hit the right buttons was on display. However, railing against NAFTA--open trade with Mexico--didn't get the response Kucinch is used to from audiences packed with White liberals and unionists. B+

Obama answered all of the questions forthrightly and in the manner we've come to know--serious wonkyness. However, he missed an opportunity to align his historical quest with the plight of a beleaguered Latino population. I did though like that he mentioned working with Chicago's Luis Gutierrez on immigration reform. B (Upon reflection, I revised Obama's score up a bit because the transcript--without the filter of that atrocious translator--was much better than I thought.)

Edwards was Mr. Populist--the son of a mill worker fighting the fight on behalf of the little guy. I do appreciate his view that Latinos--citizens as well as noncitizens--have enriched America. B

Hillary was self-assured and steady. It's easy to believe that she has the Latino vote sewen up when so many establishment Latinos are queued up at her cart. Although I'm not sure that her vote for the Mexico wall and her insistence that we need more US-Mexico border security was appreciated--especially since she ignored the question which had to do with why a wall against Mexico but not Canada. C+ (Note: Upon reflection, I adjusted Hillary's score down for trying to create a "Sista Souljah" moment by trying to out rightwing the Republicans on "border security". Shameful.)
Dodd made the strongest case for re-establishing constructive relations with Latin America. He noted that the U.S. invests some $6 billion in aid in Latin America, while spending over $400 Billion in a questionable war in Iraq. C+

Gravel was Gravel. Although I found his story about being a French-speaking immigrant child from Quebec compelling. C-

The Debate Photos (48 photos)

Demócratas apoyan construcción de muro entre EEUU y México ("Democrats Support Constructing Wall between the U.S. and Mexico," AP)

Dems agree on Iraq, immigration (AP)

2008 Democrats woo Hispanics on immigration (Reuters)

Immigration top issue at debate on Spanish-language TV (CNN)

In a First, a Candidate Forum in Translation (Washington Post)

Democrats Reach Out to Hispanic Voters (NYTimes)

Democrats try to speak to Hispanics (Miami Herald)


  1. Anonymous9/09/2007

    On Obama. Have you bought into media hype. I thought running for president was supposed to be serious and why would he try to link his heritage to Hispanics, or Latin Americans. Did you grade these candidates like a popularity contest?

  2. Buying into media hype? Not at all. I'm a fan of Senator Barack Obama and appreciate the level of intellect and seriousness he brings to the political debate.

    In Selma OBama was able to weave the story of a Kenyan and a white woman from Kansas into the larger civil rights narrative, which was beautiful, poetic--serious and powerful. But he failed to do so tonight in regards to the plight of millions of Latino immigrants.


    Maybe I expected too much--and as I said, his translator didn't do him an justice. Too bad.

  3. Anonymous9/10/2007

    Well, I'd have rated it differently. I'd give Hillary a C-, she was so pandering all night as always. I'll admit I have a bias against her, the way she's turned around and sold Latinos down the river on things like the border barrier. FWIW Obama came out against that, so did Edwards, seems like they're more reliable friends of Latinos. Hillary isn't trustworthy, she sells out her supposed allies too easily. I won't vote for her if she's nominated. I might even pick (gag) Giuliani over her-- if Giuliani's serious about what he said, about how we're not to be regarded as illegal, hey that's cool for me.

    Obama came off better than I thought, actually I liked him up there. Richardson I agree was most at ease, I liked him best. Still, outside of Richardson, I'd give the top spot to John Edwards. He struck the most personal chord and connected best, and he may well be the one who's best for the Latino population here.