Asked by an audience member what message they had for the roughly 50 million legal Latino residents of the United States, Republican presidential hopefuls on the debate stage in Las Vegas on October 18 bunted.
Fox News Latino quoted analyst Gwen Ifill, who said no candidate delivered a strong appeal to the fastest-growing demographic in the country. Instead, they said their messages were intended for all Americans or balked at singling out a specific minority group on grounds it would be unnecessarily polarizing. Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum praised Latinos’ family values.
Despite the lackluster response to this question, immigration was a hot-button topic during the debate.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, who saw his poll numbers drop after he was attacked for a Lone Star State policy granting in-state tuition benefits to some illegal immigrants, went on the offensive. He called former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney a “hypocrite” on the immigration issue, as Romney has admitted in the past to employing undocumented workers in his home.
Romney countered that he was unaware a lawn care company had sent individuals without employment authorization to do work on his yard, and he stopped using the company after making the discovery. He continued to attack Perry on the tuition issue, saying the policy made Texas a “magnet” for illegal immigrants.
Herman Cain said he would support sending troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. He recently sparked controversy by suggesting the United States build a deadly electrified border fence, then saying he meant it as a joke. He did not directly address the electrified fence issue at the debate.
The Nevada debate took place in the U.S. state with the highest percentage of illegal immigrants in its population, according to a Pew Hispanic Center report issued earlier this year.