HOUSTON -- Texas’ first congressional candidate debate in Spanish could help decide one of the closest races in the country.
Incumbent Republican Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco, 63, a tea party conservative, will face challenger Pete Gallego, 50, a Democratic state representative, Tuesday night in an hourlong debate aired by Spanish-language network Univision.
The event at Palo Alto College in San Antonio will be moderated by KWEX Univision 41 anchor Arantxa Loizaga, with questions from a panel of reporters at the station, the San Antonio Express-News and Texas Public Radio. English translations will be available at the time, but not Saturday when the debate is expected to be broadcast on KWEX and sister stations across the district, Univision staff said.
Congressional District 23 is among the largest in the nation, covering two-thirds of the Texas border from suburban El Paso to San Antonio. It’s considered a tossup, with political analysts giving Canseco a slight advantage as the incumbent even though a recent poll showed Gallego with a narrow lead.
The district is 66% Latino, with 53% of people speaking a language other than English at home, according to the most recent census.
Canseco, a businessman and Laredo native, was elected for the first time in the 2010 Republican wave, defeating incumbent Democratic Rep. Ciro Rodriguez.
Gallego, a lawyer who comes from the small West Texas town of Alpine, has served in the Texas state House of Representatives since 1991.
Political analysts say Canseco is likely to gain from the debate, making his pitch to undecided or socially conservative Latino swing voters.
“The 23rd District is nearly 70% Hispanic, many of whom are Spanish speakers, and the debate is another way to ensure that all constituents within the district have the best information on the candidates to make their voting decision,” Canseco said in a statement to The Times.
“I want the voters to know that during my time in office I have consistently voted for legislation that will lower taxes, create jobs and preserve Medicare for future generations,” he continued. "One of the many ways I’ve fought to preserve Medicare is by voting to repeal ‘Obamacare’.”
Gallego’s campaign released a statement noting that a poll last week showed him with a 5-point lead and added that the debate would allow him to solidify his lead.
Gallego, who aired his first Spanish-language television campaign ad last week, agreed to the debate in an effort to boost his profile among Spanish speakers, his staff said.
“Rep. Gallego is excited about participating in this debate. On every issue that’s important to Latinos, Pete Gallego is better,” spokeswoman Rebecca Acuna said.
“A Spanish-language debate will let him make his case to a bigger portion of the electorate. The debate will also force Quico Canseco to explain the votes he took on issues that disproportionately hurt Latinos.”
Both candidates grew up speaking Spanish, campaign staff said.