Democrats Talk Iraq in Univision Debate

By NEDRA PICKLER
The Associated Press
Sunday, September 9, 2007; 9:28 PM

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton insisted Sunday night it's time to start pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq as she and her Democratic presidential rivals debated the war on the eve of a much-awaited assessment by U.S. commanding Gen. David Petraeus.

In the first presidential debate ever broadcast in Spanish, the protracted war in Iraq competed for attention with the swirling argument over immigration. On Iraq, Gov. Bill Richardson retorted that Clinton and others who want to leave residual forces there would leave soldiers at risk.

"I'd bring them all home within six to eight months," the New Mexico governor said in the debate, which was broadcast on Univision, the nation's largest Spanish-language network. "There is a basic difference between all of us here ... This is a fundamental issue," he said.

Clinton said that a report being presented in Washington by Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker this week won't change the basic problem that there is no military solution in Iraq. "I believe we should start bringing our troops home," she said. "We need to quit refereeing their civil war and bring our troops home as soon as possible."

All who were asked about immigration at the debate on the campus of the University of Miami said they would address this vexing issue in their first year in office.

Clinton criticized the immigration bill proposed in the last Congress, dominated by Republicans. That legislation would have penalized those who help illegal immigrants. "I said it would have criminalized the good Samaritan. It would have criminalized Jesus Christ," she said.

That the Democrats participated in the Spanish-language debate is the clearest sign yet of the growing influence of Hispanic voters. The candidates are reaching out to Hispanics with an intensity that speaks to the importance of the nation's largest and fastest-growing minority group in the campaign.

Anchors Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas posed questions in Spanish and the candidates had earpieces to hear simultaneous translations into English. The candidates' responses were simultaneously translated into Spanish for broadcast, and English-speaking viewers could watch using the closed caption service on their televisions.

Not surprisingly for anchors who vocally support a path to legalization for the nation's estimated 12 million immigrants, both Ramos and Salinas framed their questions with the basic assumption that immigrants, including those in the country illegally, face discrimination and have been unfairly demonized _ a view not universally shared in the English-language media.

Univision's late entry to the field of networks hosting such high-profile political events was evident Sunday night. Reporters from around the world who came to Florida to cover the debate were left with no audio feed in the room where they were placed outside the debate hall for the first 35 minutes of the 90-minute event.

Richardson, one of two candidate who speak fluent Spanish, objected to the debate rules that required all candidates to answer in English. The rule was designed to make sure that no candidate had an advantage in appealing to the Spanish-speaking audience.

"I'm disappointed today that 43 million Latinos in this country, for them not to hear one of their own speak Spanish, is unfortunate," said Richardson, the governor of New Mexico. "In other words, Univision is promoting English-only in this debate."


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