Democratic presidential candidates duel in Spanish, some better than others

Me llamo Beto O’Rourke y quiero ser presidente.
Me llamo Beto O’Rourke y quiero ser presidente.
Image: Reuters/Mike Segar
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Democrats vying for the US presidency held their first debate tonight. Part of it was in Spanish.

In a sign of how coveted Latino votes have become, former US congressman Beto O’Rourke made part of his first response in Spanish. “We need to include each person in the success of this economy,” he said in Spanish. Later, US senator Cory Booker also made remarks in Spanish about immigration. Even one of the hosts, Telemundo’s José Díaz Balart, at one point posed his question in Spanish.

Several among the numerous candidates for the Democratic primary have been addressing voters in Spanish-language TV, some in Spanish. Telemundo is the first Spanish-language network to co-host a Democratic primary debate. Some read the choice of Miami as a venue as a way to jumpstart the courting of the Hispanic community ahead of the 2020 election.

Though they still vote at lower rates than whites and blacks, Latinos turned out in record numbers during the 2018 midterm election. They could make a big difference in 2020 in toss-up states.

For some of the candidates, the intention to reach Spanish speakers has been stronger than the execution. Several have bungled grammar in their campaign materials. During the debate, O’Rourke, who grew up in the border city of El Paso, sounded a bit like Yoda by mixing the usual order in some of his sentences. Booker’s accent was rather choppy. The only one who aced on the Spanish front was Díaz Balart, who is Cuban-American.

Julián Castro, the only Latino on the stage, mostly stuck to English, though his focus on immigration seemed intended to galvanize Hispanic voters. He closed in Spanish, saying he was running for president. “The very fact that I can say that tonight shows the progress that we have made in this country,” he added.

“On January 20th 2021, we’ll say adiós to Donald Trump.”

This story has been updated to include Julián Castro’s closing remarks in Spanish.