Elections

No Univision debate for Rubio, Murphy after Murphy rejects Spanish-language format

Republican incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio, left, and Democratic challenger Rep. Patrick Murphy shake hands before their debate at the University of Central Florida, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016, in Orlando.
Republican incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio, left, and Democratic challenger Rep. Patrick Murphy shake hands before their debate at the University of Central Florida, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016, in Orlando. AP

A proposed U.S. Senate debate on Univision Miami between Republican incumbent Marco Rubio and Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy has been scrapped because the two campaigns couldn’t agree on what language the event would be conducted in on the Spanish-language network.

Rubio — and Univision, an email from the network shows — wanted the debate in Spanish, while Murphy’s campaign insisted on a debate in English that would then be dubbed in Spanish for the network’s Hispanic viewing audience.

MORE: Murphy wants Spanish-language debate on Univision — en inglés

Rubio’s campaign accused Murphy of “blowing off” the debate, but Murphy campaign spokesman Joshua Karp said a debate in Spanish “has never been used in a statewide debate in Florida and would not allow for a vibrant exchange of ideas between the candidates.”

Murphy isn’t fluent in Spanish; Rubio, a Cuban American, is.

Murphy agreed to the Univision debate only last week, a month after Rubio did and after Murphy had begun aggressively stepping up his outreach to Hispanic voters starting in late September.

Murphy’s campaign wanted the condition of a debate in English, citing the need for “a fair playing field for both candidates.” Although, the campaign also said: “Patrick has always felt that Florida’s Senate election should include a Spanish-language debate.”

The format Univison itself proposed — as presented to the campaigns on Wednesday, according to an email supplied to the Herald/Times by Rubio’s campaign and confirmed by Murphy’s — was for a true Spanish-language debate.

“The debate will be in Spanish,” reads the email. “Spanish-language questions will be translated to English for Congressman Murphy and English language answers from the Congressman will be translated to Spanish for the viewers.”

Karp confirmed the authenticity of the Univision email but disputed that the format of the event had been finalized. “Negotiations were ongoing,” Karp said.

Or maybe [Murphy is] pulling out because he just doesn’t understand Florida’s Hispanics, a community he completely ignored until weeks before the election.

Rubio spokeswoman Olivia Perez-Cubas

Karp shared an email that Murphy campaign manager Josh Wolf sent to Univision at 11:30 a.m. Friday — after the Herald/Times asked the campaigns about the status of the debate and had confirmed through Univision it was canceled. In it, Wolf said “it is still our hope the debate will come together” and he indicated the debate hinged on “a final budget decision” by the network.

However, Univision spokeswoman Yvette Pacheco told the Herald/Times Friday: “Univision Miami canceled the debate because it was not able to come to an agreement on the language of the event.”

According to the email Rubio’s campaign provided, Univision proposed a taped debate on Oct. 28 that would have aired during the regularly scheduled “Al Punto Florida” show the following Sunday morning.

Karp said “the rules Rubio wants” buck Florida history. He cited two recent examples of statewide debates sponsored by Spanish-language networks that were conducted in English and then dubbed in Spanish: a 2014 gubernatorial debate between Rick Scott and Charlie Crist and one in Rubio’s first Senate contest in 2010 against Crist and Kendrick Meek.

Rubio’s campaign argued Murphy is ducking out of the debate because the two-term Jupiter congressman doesn’t have a defensible record in supporting Florida’s Hispanic residents, saying — for example — Murphy was using Dreamers only as a “talking point in this race.”

“Or maybe he’s pulling out because he just doesn’t understand Florida’s Hispanics, a community he completely ignored until weeks before the election,” Perez-Cubas said.

If anyone’s left the negotiating table, it’s Senator Rubio’s team.

Murphy spokesman Joshua Karp

Karp retorted: “We’re committed to making the debate happen, so for Senator Rubio to throw these kinds of misleading accusations around is very disappointing.”

“It seems like he doesn’t want to debate in front of a Spanish-language audience, something Patrick Murphy is committed to doing,” Karp added. “If anyone’s left the negotiating table, it’s Senator Rubio’s team.”

As the two campaigns sparred over which was to blame for the cancellation of Univision’s debate, Murphy’s campaign on Friday afternoon presented another opportunity to debate in front of a Spanish-speaking audience but, again, in an English-language format.

Murphy said he’d accepted a proposed debate by Telemundo Orlando and the Hispanic Federation. However, like the Univision debate, the terms of the Telemundo debate haven’t been finalized.

As it stands, there will only be the two debates between Rubio and Murphy: the one they had Monday in Orlando and one scheduled for Wednesday in Broward County.

Kristen M. Clark: 850-222-3095, kclark@miamiherald.com, @ByKristenMClark

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