There was talk of the economy and immigration, debate over climate change and clashes over health care. But there was also a lot of Spanish.
Ten presidential candidates made their pitches during the first night of the first Democratic debate in Miami Wednesday, night one of this week’s doubleheader, hoping to stand out in a crowded field all looking to edge President Donald Trump out of office in 2020.
O’Rourke, who is fluent in Spanish, according to the New York Times, responded in the language when asked about tax rates. Booker and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s expressions said what many were thinking.
“When your friend comes back from study abroad,” quipped Full Frontal host Samantha Bee.
“When Dad says ‘Hola, como estas?’ to the waiter at the Mexican restaurant,” joked The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah.
“You know that feeling — have you ever walked into an exam in school and then you sit down and another student puts like a protractor on the desk and you’re like, what, we need a protractor?" Noah later said on the show. "That’s what that face was. Panic. Absolute panic.”
But later on in the debate, Booker, who did an “immersion Spanish language study” in Ecuador, also broke out the Spanish while addressing immigration — giving a little insight into what he might have been thinking during O’Rourke’s moment in the spotlight. Though, both candidates’ skills were a bit imperfect, according to CNN.
Booker later addressed the moment during a TV interview.
“I just knew he had laid a gauntlet down and I was talking a little bit with [Julián] Castro, both he and I knew as people who can speak Spanish, that now we were going to bring it as well, but I can’t remember exactly what I was thinking in that moment," he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. "I just saw him pull it out, and I realize that there’s a lot of bilingual people, some even trilingual, in this race, and I’m happy to have those skills.”
Castro, the only Latino Democratic candidate, threw in some Spanish too, while moderator José Díaz-Balart posed a question to O’Rourke in the language. There were about 29 million Latinos eligible to vote in the 2018 midterm elections, while the number of Latino voters just about doubled between 2014 and 2018, according to the Pew Research Center.
Even still, some wondered whether the use of the language was genuine way to reach out to Spanish-speaking voters. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert that while at times “humorous,” it was “a good gesture to the fact that we are a diverse country.”
Time will tell what impact the skill will have on American voters in the 2020 election, but jokes were already stirring among candidates set to participate in Thursday’s debate, where watchers will hear from 10 additional hopefuls, including former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who knows a couple of languages himself, including some Norwegian.
Candidates Marianne Williamson remarked on Twitter Wednesday that she needs to “learn Spanish by tomorrow night at 9."
Another fessed up to his misgivings.
“My Spanish is terrible,” said candidate Andrew Yang.