Times reporters Michael Cooper and Marc Santora didn't hesitate to position the Republican candidates as angry, hard-line foes of illegal immigration in their coverage of Sunday's GOP "Hispanic debate," held at the University of Miami and carried by the Spanish-language television network Univision ("Candidates Firm OnImmigration").
"In front of what will probably be their most pro-immigration audience, Republican candidates toned down their rhetoric but told Spanish-language television viewers in a debate on Sunday that they would take strong measures to close off the country's borders to illegal immigration.
"The candidates were forced into a difficult balancing act by the debate, broadcast on Univision, as they tried to offend neither the Hispanic audience nor the Republican base many of them have tried to appeal to by taking a hard line on illegal immigration. The topic has led to some of the fiercest rhetoric in past debates.
"Most of the seven candidates took a softer tone on Sunday, even as many spoke of working to eradicate illegal immigration. Some spoke of trying to send some of the 12 million people who are estimated to be in the United States illegally back to their native countries."
When the Republican candidates (all showed up for the debate, save the truly anti-immigrant candidate Rep. Tom Tancredo) praised legal immigration the Times got sarcastic.
"They sandwiched their remarks between gauzy paeans to legal immigration and the values of immigrants."
"Mr. Huckabee, who has voiced compassion for illegal immigrants and who has had to defend a proposal he supported as governor of Arkansas to offer taxpayer-financed scholarships to the children of illegal immigrants, recently issued a proposal that focuses on strict penalties for illegal immigration. At the debate he said the illegal immigrants should go 'to the back, not the front of the line,' and said they should start the process by going back to their native countries.
"One candidate, Tom Tancredo, who has based his campaign on heated rhetoric about illegal immigration, boycotted the debate, saying in a statement that the very idea of having the forum in Spanish was un-American and that those who participated were simply 'pandering' to Hispanic voters. The debate was originally planned for September, but most of the candidates declined to appear then, citing scheduling conflicts."