DALLAS: The leading Democratic candidates for Texas governor played on Hispanic pride last week by conducting what is believed to be the country's first Spanish-language gubernatorial debates.Frontrunner Tony Sanchez and spoiler Dan Morales haggled for weeks before agreeing to verbally joust for one hour in English and one in Spanish on public television last Friday.
Some observers say Sanchez, a wealthy businessman from border city Laredo, pushed for the Spanish debates to "out-Hispanic
the younger Morales, a former state attorney general and San Antonio native who grew up in a time and place when many children were discouraged from speaking Spanish.
"Sanchez has very skillfully lured Morales onto his killing ground," opined Rob Allyn, president of Dallas-based Allyn & Co. and advisor to Mexican President Vicente Fox.
A third of the state's population is Hispanic, and while observers say Latinos will vote on issues rather than the language used to communicate them, they also agree that debating in Spanish gives Latinos a nod of respect.
Henry de la Garza, principal of Houston's de la Garza PR and president of The Pinnacle Worldwide Network, said the debates should help motivate otherwise apathetic Latino voters. In a state dominated by "border Spanish,
de la Garza said small words would be the key to winning the debate.
Not all Texans like the idea of Spanish debates, and some expressed speak-English-in-America views on talk radio and in letters to editors. "An ugly nativist prejudice still exists,
Morales' communications director Jim Moore said one underdog candidate, John Worldpeace, filed lawsuits hoping to stop the Spanish debate on the grounds that it was discriminatory. The Democratic nominee may face conservative backlash in the general election, Moore admitted.
Most experts agree with Allyn, however, that the debate marks "a real coming of age for the Hispanic culture in the US."
"The winner in the debate is the Hispanic voter,
said Frank Guerra, principal of San Antonio agency Guerra DeBerry Coody.