The first two Democratic candidates who agreed to a presidential debate broadcast by the nation's largest Spanish-language network were the only two candidates who speak Spanish fluently: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, the only Hispanic in the race, and Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, who learned Spanish while serving in the Peace Corps.
But Richardson and Dodd will not be able to show off their bilingualism at the Sept. 9 debate at the University of Miami. Univision spokeswoman Maryam Banikarim said the questions will be asked in Spanish and the eight candidates must respond in English, with simultaneous translations.
"It's to give everyone a level playing field,'' she said.
Both the Richardson and Dodd campaigns say that rule was not made clear when they accepted the invitation.
"It's kind of ridiculous,'' said Richardson spokesman Pahl Shipley. "It's understandable for those who don't speak Spanish, but why the candidates who do speak Spanish should be penalized is fairly frustrating...The governor was excited about the prospect of speaking directly to the audience in their native language.''
Dodd spokesman Hari Sevugan held out hope that the rule could be changed. "I'm sure all the campaigns would agree that it could only be to the benefit of all voters if candidates were able to answer questions in either English or Spanish, especially when interpreters would be available to those who need them,'' he said in an e-mailed statement. "As I wouldn't think there would be any objections among the participants, we are hopeful that they will work something out.''