Texas All-Spanish Congressional Debate Gets National Attention
SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Texas' 23rd congressional district is huge, sweeping 550 miles from San Antonio to El Paso. Also huge is tonight's debate between Republican incumbent Representative Quico Canseco (R-San Antonio) and Democratic challenger Pete Gallego (Alpine).
It's receiving national attention, partly because the race is one of the most hotly contested in the country, but also because the entire debate will be in Spanish. Sponsored by Univision and AARP of Texas, it will allow the two candidates, both of whom are Mexican-American, to better connect with the majority of the districts' voters, according to AARP's Rafael Ayuso.
"And they will actually be conveying information about Medicare, Social Security, financial security, in the language that you understand best, so for clarity purposes it's helpful. I mean, you don't have to rely on anyone else to interpret what the candidate is saying."
Sixty-six percent of District 23 is Latino, with big majorities in many areas speaking primarily Spanish while at home. The debate will not be broadcast live, but Univision stations throughout the district plan to air it in the near future.
Retired educator Gloria Davila will attend the event tonight at San Antonio's Palo Alto College. She says the candidates' willingness to argue issues in her native language makes her feel valued.
"It means that we are important. It makes us feel closer to our roots. And it helps us to see the candidates being like us, speaking like us. I'm very excited. It just gives me goosebumps."
While Latinos comprise about 17 percent of the U.S. population, they only make up 9 percent of the voting public. Sometimes referred to as a "sleeping giant" in American politics, Latinos are also the most rapidly growing group of voters.
Davila sees tonight's debate as a sign that politicians are noticing the changing demographics.
"Sometime, some way, somehow, they're going to have to start paying attention to our needs: health care; education. And we, as Americans, have worked for our Medicare and Social Security. We want our voices heard."
The national parties and their super PACS are paying attention. They've already invested hundreds of thousands in the District 23 race. Democrats are eager to reclaim the seat from Canseco, who turned the swing district Republican during the Tea Party-dominated 2010 election. Pollsters consider the race a tossup.