- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 30, 2014

DENVER — Two congressional candidates whose first language is English held a Spanish-language debate Thursday evening in a first for Colorado politics.

Republican Rep. Mike Coffman and Democrat Andrew Romanoff squared off in a 30-minute live televised debate at Entravision studios in Denver, near the 6th Congressional District in the southern and eastern suburbs.

Mr. Romanoff, who learned Spanish as a Peace Corps volunteer in Costa Rica, had the language advantage over Mr. Coffman, who gamely agreed to the all-Spanish debate even though he has only studied the language for about two years.

Mr. Coffman relied heavily on notes, which prompted a shot from Mr. Romanoff at the end of the forum.

“I want to speak from the heart, not from a script,” Mr. Romanoff said in Spanish, gesturing dismissively at Mr. Coffman’s notes.

Not surprisingly, immigration reform was a key topic. Mr. Romanoff described himself as the son and grandson of immigrants, saying, “It’s very important to have a congressman in this district who respects our diversity and favors immigration reform.”

“Unfortunately, we have a congressman, Mike Coffman, who has voted against our priorities,” Mr. Romanoff said. “What’s important is not what he says here but what he does in Washington.”

Mr. Coffman talked about growing up in working-class Aurora — Mr. Romanoff recently moved to Aurora after previously representing a Denver district in the state House — before enlisting in the Army and starting a small business.

The Republican congressman said he knows what it’s like “to keep the doors open for business and to work countless hours to obtain the American dream.”

“It’s very important for me to share my priorities and ideas to create more jobs and opportunities for all of those in Colorado,” Mr. Coffman said.

He said he wanted to ensure that voters who need ballots in their native language receive them, but that not every ballot needs to be bilingual. As for his Spanish, he acknowledged that it was a work in progress.

“I want every voter to obtain the information they need in the language they best understand. For that same reason, I’m here speaking to you in Spanish, or trying to speak to you in Spanish,” Mr. Coffman said.

While candidates who grew up speaking Spanish have debated in their native language, it’s rare for non-native speakers to engage in a Spanish-language forum. Sponsored by Mi Familia Vota, Thursday’s debate is believed to be the first of its kind in Colorado.

The tight congressional contest has long been viewed as a toss-up. Two weeks ago, however, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee scrapped about $1 million in planned advertising, leading to speculation that the committee’s priorities have shifted from flipping Republican seats to shoring up shaky Democratic ones.

The once solidly Republican district based in Douglas County was redrawn to include Aurora and part of Adams County, making it much more competitive. The district is about one-fifth Hispanic.

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