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Question of the Day
Sunday's Spanish-language Democratic presidential debate is a coming-of-age that underscores a new political reality: Spanish broadcast news has persuasive power, it differs markedly from English-language programs, and thanks to the immigration debate, it has hurt Republicans.
"It's utterly different. Utterly and completely different," said Antonio Gonzalez, president of the Southwest Voter Registration Project. "Same day, same markets, totally different news. Utterly different priorities, different images, different geographic focus."
Although Spanish-language press is not monolithic, news coverage, and particularly political coverage, tends to focus on advocacy for its community, analysts said.
It's new territory that Democrats have been quick to grasp, deploying Spanish-speaking lawmakers to make the party's case on education, national defense and, most recently, immigration.
Fernando J. Guerra, a professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles who studies the Hispanic electorate, said that means Spanish-language voters got a steady diet of news that reflected poorly on Republicans. That, in turn, helped Democrats.
"You can see it in that, during that time, those immigrants who become naturalized citizens who then register to vote, register at a much higher percentage for Democrats," he said.
Democratic candidates have a chance to criticize Republicans again in a debate to be broadcast on Univision at 7 p.m. It promises to be an unwieldy affair, given that candidates are required to answer in English with their answers translated — an effort to even the footing because candidates Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson are fluent in Spanish.
Spanish-language appearances are likely to become a fixture for future campaigns.
Univision is the country's fifth-largest broadcast network, and its local newscasts are now tops in 16 cities, including Los Angeles, Phoenix and Miami, according to NDN, a Democratic advocacy group. And while broadcast networks lose their audience, the Spanish-language market is growing, particularly in political coverage.
Telemundo, another major Spanish-language network, is expected to announce today that it aims to schedule its own Democratic debate for October, said Mr. Gonzalez, whose group is a co-sponsor. And Univision this weekend begins a new national Sunday political talk show.
Univision also invited Republican candidates to a debate, but so far only Arizona Sen. John McCain has announced his intention to participate — something most analysts say will only further damage Republicans.
Those involved with Spanish-language broadcasts say it's a powerful medium for Hispanic voters.
"The electorate, when they hear it in their native language, it's more impactful," said Frank Guerra, a Hispanic marketing analyst who worked on the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. He said the reach extends beyond just immigrant Spanish speakers to include second- and third-generation Hispanics who "are looking to go back and recapture their culture."
He said divergent views exist among Hispanic voters on immigration, but the tone is what hurts Republicans.
"Hispanics are not monolithic. They really are divided on every issue," he said. "The danger the Republicans run is that for the Hispanics who agree with their position, the tone of the debate may turn them off."
Analysts said the majority of viewers tuning into Spanish-language broadcasts may not be voters, but those viewers are often the parents and grandparents of voters, making them influential.
And, politically speaking, those households are in strategic states.
Mr. Gonzalez said half of all Hispanic voters are in states that will vote by Feb. 5, the date of next year's Super Tuesday that combines primaries in a number of major states. That's a giant increase over previous cycles, when just 5 percent of Hispanic voters were in early states.
"Spanish-language media, particularly TV, gets it and is sort of reorienting itself to provide services to the community and to be successful business-wise," he said.
He recalls driving in his car on May Day 2006, the day of the massive pro-immigrant rallies, and hearing the Spanish-language radio stations in Los Angeles urging listeners to turn out. On English-language news stations, coverage focused on the traffic jam.
"The images are more reflective of the Latino reality," he said. "You're covered like you're a community that matters and is relevant. But the news is also different. Things going on in the Hispanic community are covered, that are just not considered news in the L.A. Times."
The difference also plays out in coverage of the war in Iraq, he said. Spanish-language press was critical of the war long before the English-language networks.
Fernando Guerra, the professor, said immigration coverage is natural, both because it matters to the community and because the anchors, writers, producers and editors are often immigrants themselves and are surrounded by those stories.
He said Republicans must avoid what happened in California, where former Gov. Pete Wilson "became synonymous with 'anti-immigrant, anti-Latino,' and he also became synonymous with the Republican Party."
Joe Garcia, director of NDN's Hispanic Strategy Center, put it more bluntly: "There is not a Hispanic in the United States who doesn't know exactly who Tom Tancredo is and who [F. James] Sensenbrenner [Jr.] is," he said, referring to two of the authors of House Republicans' 2005 illegal-alien crackdown bill.
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