A dispute involving Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and the nation's largest Spanish-language TV network, Univision, has spilled over into the presidential primary. At least five Republican presidential candidates say they will not take part in a debate planned by Univision in January, before the Florida primary.
According to the Miami Herald, the story began in July when Univision was preparing a story on Rubio's brother-in-law, who was convicted of drug trafficking 24 years ago — when Rubio was 16.
Rubio's staff contacted the network to try to convince them not to do the story. It's old news, they said — nothing to do with Sen. Rubio, but hurtful to his family.
Univision, as the nation's largest Hispanic network, plays an important role for candidates — giving them unrivalled access to Spanish-speaking voters. One of the network's anchors, Jorge Ramos, is an outspoken advocate of the federal Dream Act, a bill Rubio opposes. Rubio has turned down requests to appear on the program.
In a conference call, Rubio staffers say Univision's president of news, Isaac Lee, said he would consider softening the story — or pulling it altogether — if Rubio would agree to appear on Ramos' talk show.
Univision says Lee never made such an offer. The Herald says its story was confirmed both by Rubio staff and insiders at the TV network.
After seeing the story, three Republican officials — all Rubio friends — wrote a letter to Univision, asking the network to apologize and fire Lee. They also called on the Republican party and its presidential candidates to boycott a debate the network was planning to hold before the Florida primary.
One of the officials is the majority leader in Florida's House of Representatives, Carlos Lopez-Cantera. He says, "It's about a news organization threatening to run a story that is irrelevant or embarrassing in order to coerce or motivate somebody to participate in an interview or appear on a show on their network."
By Wednesday, several Republican candidates — including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and businessman Herman Cain — said they would not take part in the Univision debate.
Rubio — the man at the center of the dispute — has been mentioned as a possible pick for vice president.
Lopez-Cantera says he expects Hispanic voters will still have an opportunity to hear from the Republican presidential candidates. Another Hispanic network, Telemundo, is working with NBC to set up its own debate before the Florida primary, now set for Jan. 31.