Colorado politicians to debate in Spanish

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) join a group of military 'DREAMers', undocumented youth who aspire to serve the United States in uniform but are prohibited from doing due to their immigration status, during a rally in front of the U.S. Capitol May 20, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

Here's one sign of the growing influence of Hispanic voters in Colorado: Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colorado, and his Democratic opponent Andrew Romanoff are participating in the state's first-ever Spanish-language congressional debate on Thursday night.

Coffman has represented Colorado's 6th district since 2008, when he replaced the notoriously anti-immigration reform Congressman Tom Tancredo. In 2007, when Tancredo sought the GOP presidential nomination, he boycotted a Univision debate because he objected to its translation into Spanish, calling it "pandering."

This week, Tancredo's congressional successor is not only participating in the Entravision debate, he's also speaking in Spanish himself. Coffman has been preparing for the debate with a Spanish-language tutor, the Denver Post reports.

"I've got a ways to go," Coffman told the Post. "Most of it's just on my own. I do Rosetta Stone (tutorials), I watch TV, I listen to the radio."

Coffman's campaign manager Tyler Sandberg told CBS that the effort demonstrates the congressman's "commitment to representing and communicating with all of his constituents."

Romanoff, a former state legislator who spent time in Central America after college, is fluent in Spanish. He frequently does interviews in Spanish, including a weekly radio interview. Romanoff ran an ad earlier this month in which he speaks in Spanish and slams Coffman for once referring to the Dream Act -- a bill giving certain undocumented youth a path to citizenship -- as "a nightmare for the American people."

Coffman has shifted his stance on certain issues since coming into office. In 2013, he introduced a bill that would give certain undocumented youth a chance to earn citizenship by serving in the military for five years.

Coffman's district was redrawn in 2010 so that it's much more competitive. He won re-election by a small margin in 2012. With its new boundaries, the district--which includes parts of Denver--is one-fifth Latino. In the state overall, Latinos similarly represent about one-fifth of the population. The Latino population in the Denver nearly doubled from 2000 to 2014.

There's been no polling in the congressional race, but it should be competitive. This week, former President Bill Clinton was in the sixth district to campaign for Romanoff and other Democratic candidates. Romanoff also had Mr. Clinton's support in 2010, in his failed primary challenge against Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.

The debate will air on Entravision's Noticias Univision Colorado stations, KCEC-TV Denver and KVSN-TV Colorado Springs. Entravision is hosting the debate in partnership with the nonpartisan group Mi Familia Vota Education Fund. The debate hosts promise to focus on "Latino-specific" topics.

Mi Familia Vota Education Fund confirmed to CBS that the candidates will not use translators during the debate.