At the request of Latino legislators in the Florida Republican Party, so far five Republican presidential candidates have decided to boycott the Jan. 29, 2012, Univision debate. Univision allegedly tried to get Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to appear on their network in exchange for dropping a story about his brother-in-law's drug conviction. The move threatens to alienate some in the Latino community.
Over the summer, Univision ran an investigative report on the 1987 drug bust that led to the conviction of Rubio's brother-in-law.
The allegations of Univision's attempted “extortion” came to light on Saturday when The Miami Herald published an in-depth report on the story. According to the report, Univision president Isaac Lee offered to kill or soften the story if Rubio agreed to appear on “Al Punto,” a political talk show.
Unnamed members of Rubio's staff and Univision insiders told The Miami Herald that the incident happened during a July 7 conference call between some of Rubio's top-level staff and Univision executives.
After Lee suggested that the drug-bust story could be changed, or not run at all, if Rubio agreed to an appearance on the network, Rubio political advisor Todd Harris asked for clarification.
“You’re saying that if Marco does an interview with Ramos (host of “Al Punto”), that you will drop this investigation into his family and the story will never air?” Harris asked.
Lee responded, “While there are no guarantees, your understanding of the proposal is fair,” according to The Miami Herald.
Lee denied that there was a quid pro quo offer, saying, “With respect to Senator Rubio, Univision covered the story in the same objective, fair manner we cover every significant story. Univision did not offer to soften or spike a story … we would not make such an offer to any other subject of a news story and did not offer it in this case.”
Rubio, who worked for Univision before becoming a U.S. senator, has not commented specifically on the case, but said he “always knew Univision to be a professional organization until this happened.”
No other news networks reported on the story of Rubio's brother-in-law's drug bust because it was deemed a non-story. Rubio was only 16 years old at the time and was not involved in the crime.
So far, the candidates who have agreed to the boycott are Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, businessman Herman Cain, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
“We have not received any invitation from Univision for a debate, but we are troubled by these allegations and would not participate in any such debate unless and until Univision satisfactorily addresses this situation,” a Romney spokesperson said.
In Perry's statement, he noted that Telemundo, a rival Latino network, will also be televising a debate the same weekend. “We will have ample opportunity to engage with Spanish-speaking Americans,” a Perry spokesperson wrote.
In an Oct. 5 interview with The Christian Post, Kevin Wagner, assistant professor of political science at Florida Atlantic University, said there has been tension between the Latino media and the Republican Party in Florida, particularly over the issue of immigration, and Rubio has been “caught up in that conflict.”
Republicans in the state who take a position that would “provide a path to citizenship to undocumented workers or their family or to allow the children of undocumented workers to attend universities with in-state tuition” risk “riling the Republican base,” Wagner added.
Rubio is considered a rising star and potential vice-presidential nominee by many in the Republican Party.
The Univision boycott is indicative of “wedge issues” among Latino Americans, said DeeDee Garcia Blase, founder of Somos Republicans, a Latino Republican political advocacy group, in an Oct. 5 interview with The Christian Post.
Blase said she believes the candidates supporting the boycott are responding to the concerns of the Cuban-American community, which is strong in Florida, and risk alienating the rest of the Latino-American community.
The candidates who are boycotting Univision are “committing Hispanic political suicide,” Blase said. “Univision is the number-one Spanish network in the nation,” and “the lifeline of Hispanic media.”
Blase said Somos Republicans was already upset with Rubio for saying that he does not support “amnesty” for illegal immigrants, because, as a Cuban-American, his family has already benefited from an amnesty-like government program.
Republican candidates who support the boycott, “are trying to appease the Cuban-American population” at the expense of the rest of the Latino community, Blase said.
“Do they want to go after the 3 percent (Cuban-American population, prominent in Florida) or do they want to go after the 70 to 75 percent (Mexican-American population, prominent in the Southwest)? That is what I see taking place with their moronic move, fighting Univision,” Blase said.
Florida recently moved its primary to Jan. 31, which will likely make it the fifth nomination contest. With its large number of delegates and early primary, Florida will be one of the most important states on the path to securing the Republican nomination.