A suggestion by a Univision reporter that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz debate in Spanish has taken on a life of its own.
Though neither of the two U.S. Senate candidates in the July 31 Republican primary runoff are actively working to organize a Spanish-language debate, the idea has gained attention from national media and sparked erroneous reports that such an event is actually in the works, a claim both campaigns deny.
According to Univision reports posted online last week in Spanish and English, Dewhurst "has challenged Cruz, the Cuban-American attorney and Tea Party favorite, to a debate in Spanish."
Dewhurst’s campaign says that’s not what happened.
"We did not propose a Univision debate," said Matt Hirsch, Dewhurst’s campaign spokesman. "It was suggested by Univison. There is no formal proposal on the table by Univision."
Dewhurst and Cruz have agreed to two debates so far, one of which will be hosted by KERA. Univision and The Texas Tribune are both partners in the event, and Univision is expected to simulcast that debate in Spanish, KERA Managing Editor Shelley Kofler said.
Dewhurst learned Spanish while working in Bolivia as a CIA agent in the 1970s. Hirsch said Dewhurst is "open and interested" in participating in a Spanish-language debate if one is proposed by Univision or another television station.
Cruz told Univision he was raised in a house speaking "Spanglish."
"That’s the world in which I grew up, and it’s the world in which a lot of second-generation immigrants find," Cruz said. In a statement Monday, Cruz said, "Most Texans speak English. ... In any language, parece que el Señor Dewhurst les tiene miedo a los votantes de Texas." (Translation: "It seems that Mr. Dewhurst is afraid of Texas voters.")
Cruz backers are accusing Dewhurst of promoting the concept as a gimmick to distract voters. Dewhurst's camp says the story has been distorted.
On Tuesday, some online outlets incorrectly reported that Cruz has agreed to such an event.
"The only statement we have made on it is Ted thinks the debates should be in English," Cruz spokesman James Bernson said.
This isn’t the first time the prospects of a Spanish-language debate in Texas has drawn national interest. Ten years ago, two Democrats running for governor, Tony Sanchez and Dan Morales, both Mexican-Americans, participated in a debate on KERA, the PBS affiliate in Dallas. It was touted at the time as the country’s first televised Spanish-language debate among major party candidates for a statewide office.
Morales spent much of the event attempting to deliver answers in both Spanish and English, prompting Sanchez to accuse his opponent of being "embarrassed to be Hispanic."
Since then, Spanish-language debates have remained a rarity in Texas, especially in Republican primaries. Candidates have more often reached out to Spanish-speaking voters by producing television, radio and print ads in Spanish.
Though a Spanish-language debate may never take place between Dewhurst and Cruz, the issue could linger as both candidates continue to get questions about it.
"David Dewhurst is demanding you debate him in Spanish," conservative radio host Michael Berry told Cruz Tuesday morning. He then asked Cruz if such a debate could hurt Cruz’s chances of winning the Republican nomination, "especially since your Spanish is crap."
"I’m going to insist we debate in English and let the chips fall where they may," Cruz told Berry.
*Editor's note: A 2002 televised debate in Spanish between Democrats Tony Sanchez and Dan Morales was hosted by KERA. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the debate was hosted by Telemundo.
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