The candidates gather for a photo op prior to the forum.
UM hosts first Republican forum in Spanish

History repeated itself on the University of Miami’s Coral Gables campus Sunday evening. Three months after Democratic presidential hopefuls participated in a first-of-its-kind Spanish-language forum, seven Republican presidential candidates vying for their party’s nomination took to the stage at UM’s BankUnited Center last night, wooing Hispanic voters in a similar forum broadcast to millions of viewers on Univision’s television, radio, and online platforms.

Student volunteers had a unique opportunity to play a role in an event that received international media coverage.

Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Governor Mike Huckabee, Congressman Duncan Hunter, Senator John McCain, Congressman Ron Paul, Governor Mitt Romney, and Senator Fred Thompson debated issues ranging from education and immigration to the Iraq War, health care, and U.S. foreign policy in Latin America.

Univision Network news anchors Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas moderated the forum, posing questions in Spanish to the candidates who had earpieces that allowed them to hear simultaneous translations into English. The candidates’ responses were simultaneously translated into Spanish for the broadcast.

The forum came on the heels of a study released December 6 that shows Hispanics nationwide are returning to earlier levels of preference for the Democratic Party. According to that study, conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center, 57 percent of registered Hispanic voters now say they are Democrats or favor the Democratic Party, while 23 percent say they align with the Republicans.

President Donna E. Shalala introduced Florida Governor Charlie Crist and U.S. Senator Mel Martinez, who addressed the audience prior to the telecast.

Last night's forum concentrated on issues of particular interest to the growing Hispanic electorate. Immigration was one of the dominant topics discussed.

“We have to end illegal immigration at the border because it can’t be dealt with internally,” said Giuliani, who told the 3,000 people in attendance that he favors construction of a fence at the U.S. border and the creation of tamper-proof identification cards for immigrant guest workers.

“We have to address this issue with compassion and love,” McCain said.

With many Hispanics serving in the military, the candidates also were asked to explain why U.S. troops should not be withdrawn from Iraq. Romney said the United States’ mission in the country “amounts to protecting the lives of American citizens and making sure that Iraq does not become what Afghanistan was,” referring to Afghanistan as a country that exported terrorism and masterminded terrorist plots such as the September 11 tragedy.

More than 1,500 UM students attended the forum.

Other topics dealt with U.S. foreign policy toward Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuba. Romney called for a Latin American strategy that “frees Cuba and eliminates a threat like Hugo Chavez,” while Huckabee, noting the United States’ dependency on oil from Venezuela, urged the U.S. to develop alternative fuel sources to decrease its reliance on oil imports.

For UM, the event was another coup, demonstrating the University’s “burgeoning status as a major American institution of research, learning, and enlightenment,” said President Donna E. Shalala. “It recognizes that we are the epitome of the exhilarating mixture of cultures and customs that make our nation so special. The Republican forum tonight, along with the Democratic forum on September 9, has enabled thousands of UM students to see every major presidential candidate before the primaries."

About 80 University of Miami students also volunteered at the event, escorting candidates and serving as runners, ushers, greeters, and rehearsal stand-ins. Many of them, such as Jeneta Hot, a junior finance major from Holmdel, New Jersey, had also volunteered at the Democratic Spanish-language forum three months ago.

Hot, who served as an usher, is a registered voter. When the forum started, she was able to watch the debate live, which gave her the opportunity “to learn more about where candidates stand on certain issues.”

Approximately 180 members of the media from local, national, and international news organizations gather in the BankUnited Center's Hurricane 100 Room, which served as the event's media filing center.

Rodolfo Hernandez, a philosophy major from Fayetteville, North Carolina, volunteered in Spin Alley, a special tented area just outside the Hurricane 100 Room where representatives of the candidates met to interact with the press after the forum ended.

UM student Jane Pryjmak served as a candidate stand-in, assisting television crews who performed sound checks for the onstage microphones. A registered Democrat, Pryjmak “still likes to hear about issues from other political parties” and said the forum “helped educate” her about the different viewpoints of the Republican Party.

During the forum, UM’s BankUnited Center buzzed with activity. The facility’s Hurricane 100 Room, normally a venue for banquets and receptions, was turned into a massive media filing center where rows and rows of tables were set up to accommodate the throngs of local, national, and international press who converged on the campus to cover the event.

An audience of more than 3,000 was on hand for Sunday's candidates forum.

Broadcast journalists from all of the major television and cable news networks were here, and reporters and photographers from well-known newspapers and magazines including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Time, and NewsWeek represented the strong contingent of print media that documented the debate.

Outside, video camera crews and satellite trucks captured images of an illuminated BankUnited Center, the facade of which was adorned with red, white, and blue bunting.

The forum capped an especially busy week for the 7,000-seat facility. Within the past seven days, the venue hosted three UM basketball games, requiring Global Spectrum employees to install and remove 56,000 pounds of flooring on three occasions. For the debate, work crews also had to move in more than 120,000 pounds of lighting, sound, and video equipment.

Congressman Ron Paul responds to media questions in Spin Alley following the forum.

Click here to view the press release. (Presione aquí para la versión en español)