In a first for Colorado, a debate between candidates for Congress was done entirely in Spanish, even though it is neither candidate’s native language.
Republican incumbent Mike Coffman and Democratic challenger Andrew Romanoff answered questions entirely in Spanish for about 30 minutes Thursday night, hoping to appeal to the 6th Congressional District’s sizable Latino population.
Romanoff speaks fluently, having learned the language 25 years ago as a Peace Corp volunteer in Central America, Denver’s Fox 31 reported. Coffman began learning Spanish about a year ago, after the district was redrawn to include neighborhoods with high populations of Hispanic voters.
Because he is less fluent, the station reported, Coffman asked for and received the questions in advance and referred often to his notes.
The House race is one of the most expensive in the country and the debate was billed as the first all-Spanish debate between non-Hispanics.
The men sparred over health care, the cost of college and — of course — immigration.
Coffman, who used to have a harder stance on immigration, has changed his views to reflect the district’s new demographics. But Romanoff hammered him on past statements, including Coffman’s praise of former Congressman Tom Tancredo and his past opposition to a bill allowing children brought into the country illegally to become citizens.
Romanoff had his own past actions to answer for, including his support of a 2006 that would have required local police to contact federal authorities when they encountered someone they suspected of being in the country illegally.
“The law was an error,” Romanoff said, quoted in the Colorado Springs Gazette.
Latino voters were thrilled with the debate, which was broadcast on Spanish-language channels.
“The viewers, the audience, they’re going to be able to hear from the candidates in their language, they’re going to be able to understand what they stand for — it’s very important,” Dr. Rocio Saenz of the group Mi Familia Vota told Denver’s Fox 31. “Also, what it says is that the Latinos are a decisive vote.”
The debate wasn’t without its snarky moments. Romanoff couldn’t resist pointing out his more complete mastery of Spanish while Coffman relied heavily on notes.
At the end of the debate, according to Fox 31, he said his remarks are “from my heart … it’s not a script.”
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