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Turned down for an official presidential debate, executives at Univision News will give Hispanic viewers a close up look at President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney in its first ever "Meet the Candidate" events.
Each will sit down for a question-and-answer session moderated by Jorge Ramos and María Elena Salinas, anchors of "Noticiero Univision." Both candidates have confirmed their participation although dates have not been finalized.
The interview sessions will be hosted before a live audience and will likely air on tape delay with content translated into Spanish. Obama and Romney will discuss topics important to the U.S. Latinos, including education and the future of Hispanics in the U.S.
"These events speak to President Obama and Governor Romney recognizing the important role Hispanic America will play in the elections and in defining the future of our country," said Isaac Lee, president of Univision News.
Univision's team will use its Facebook page as well as the social network's U.S. Politics hub, to increase interaction with voters. Both candidates will take questions from the audience as well as those submitted via Facebook.
Most observers believe Latinos – a voting bloc of 22 million - will play a pivotal role in the 2012 election. Analysts point out that a presidential candidate must win at least 40 percent of the Latino vote to have a shot at the White House.
Forecasts indicate that 12.2 million Hispanic Americans are likely to vote this year, and with 31 percent of Latino voters identifying as independents, they could easily have the deciding vote in November.
Univision's decision to hold the forums came after the Commission on Presidential Debates rejected the network's proposal to sponsor a Hispanic-themed debate. On August 15 the commission selected Candy Crowley of CNN, Jim Lehrer of PBS and Bob Schieffer de CBS News to moderate the three presidential debates. ABC News' Martha Raddatz will handle the encounter between the vice-presidential candidates.
After that decision was made, Univision's CEO Randy Falco wrote the Commission expressing "disappointment on behalf of the millions of Hispanics who do not have a voice in the upcoming presidential debates." He noted that Hispanics make up 8.7 percent of all voters in the U.S., many of them in swing states Florida, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.
In his letter, Falco offered that "Univision would be willing to create a forum for the presidential candidates to address this sector of our society" with Ramos and Salinas as moderators.
The Commission rejected Univision's offer and asserted that the four journalists selected "see their assignment as representing all Americans in their choice of topics and questions."