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How Did Republican Candidates Do? Our Latino Panel Weighs In

by Stephen A. Nuño /  / Updated 

Who scored points, who had some disappointing moments, and did the Republican candidates make a good case to prospective Latino voters on their economic plans? We asked a group of Latino/as to give us their opinions of tonight's GOP debate.

Celeste Montoya: Trump and Carson Weak on Policy

 Celeste Montoya is an Associate Professor in the Department of Women and Gender Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Tonight’s debate had two primary themes. The first was the bandwagon attack on the media. The second was an attack on “the government.” Chris Christie accused the government of lying, Carly Fiorina says the government breaks everything it touches, and Carson argued it was never intended that government should be in every aspect of our lives.

The emphasis on government is an important way that the Republicans distance themselves from the Democrats and Obama, but in a policy debate this leaves little room for substantive discussion on governing. It is here where the candidates start to differentiate themselves. The governors, Kasich, Christie, and Bush, seemed the most at ease with laying out specific plans that chart a more moderate (and arguably pragmatic) course of action. This was most obvious in the discussion of Medicare and Medicaid. Senators Rubio and Cruz dabbled in these discussions, but used more personal appeals. Rubio had a moment when he said he was against anything that was bad for his mother. But Marco Rubio also reframed the American Dream, in one of the few references to immigration, as one where there is now only room for the deserving.

The policy emphasis also highlighted some of the potential weaknesses of the outsider candidates, particularly the continually vague Trump, but also Carson, whose plans were not only questioned by the moderators, but attacked rather aggressively by Kasich. Fiorina scored a lot of debate time and maybe some rhetorical points against Hillary, but her policy plans are more populist than practical. Very little was said about other important economic policy matters: education, immigration, healthcare. But then again, there might not have been anything we haven’t heard, or want to hear on those fronts anyways.

Celeste Montoya is an Associate Professor in the Department of Women & Gender Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Raul Reyes: An Evening Rich with Irony

 Raul Reyes is an NBC Latino contributor, attorney, journalist and TV commentator.

Put me in, coach. Last night’s GOP debate from Boulder was one game in which every candidate wanted to get off the bench and score. There was clear intensity on the stage, although the candidates seemed to go after the moderators more than each other. We’ve reached the point where things have heated up in the race for the GOP nomination, and everyone was eager to land that big “moment.”

Given that the focus of this debate was jobs and the economy, Latinos had reason to watch the proceedings with interest. Consider that the unemployment rate for Latinos is 6.4 percent (above the national average), or that a 2013 report by the Urban Institute found that the average Hispanic family had only $12,000 in liquid retirement savings (compared to more than $130,000 for the average white family).

Yet often the focus of this gathering of people who want to lead our government was how incompetent our government is. It was interesting to see so many calls for less government regulation and smaller government, given that research from the Pew Center and Gallup shows that solid majorities of Latinos support a robust government to handle big problems.

That said, the night’s winner was Marco Rubio. He had the moment of the evening, turning Jeb Bush’s attack on his senate absenteeism back on him. “I don’t remember you ever complaining about John McCain’s voting record,” Rubio said. “Someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you.” Rubio also sidestepped legitimate questions about his financial judgment and past support for immigration reform. He took some well-crafted dodges – but they worked.

Conversely, the night’s loser was Bush. He desperately needed a breakout performance, given his recent gaffes,campaign cutbacks, and anemic numbers. But he seemed lackluster, and was unable to land any jabs on his rivals. To paraphrase Donald Trump, Jeb was, again, a “low energy person” at the very time he needed to shine. From his wan smile at his introduction to his odd cough in the middle of his closing statement, it was not Jeb’s night (that line promising Democrats a “warm kiss” if they cut spending grossed out the social media universe).

Notably at this debate, Donald Trump did not dominate proceedings as he has done in the past, while new frontrunner Ben Carson remained as unflappable as ever (He calmly denied substantive ties with a nutritional supplement company, although a Wall Street Journal report suggests otherwise).

The evening was rich in irony. Carly Fiorina spoke confidently about job creation, notwithstanding the fact that at HP she laid off 30,000 people. Ted Cruz, who wants to defund Planned Parenthood, declaimed passionately about women’s health. And Rubio insisted that our immigration policy should be merit-based – in the same breath that he acknowledged his parents entered the U.S. and achieved their dreams under our existing family unity policy.

Amid the interruptions and clamors for rebuttals from the crowded stage, it was refreshing to see CNBC’s Carl Quintanilla ably handling his moderator duties. His questions on income, wealth, and tax policy demonstrated that Latinos are capable of expertise in areas beyond immigration. Bien hecho (well done).

Raul Reyes is an NBC Latino contributor, attorney, journalist and TV commentator.

Luis Alvarado: Marco Rubio Shined Tonight

 Luis Alvarado is a Republican media strategist with a focus on the Latino vote.

Right off the bat, there was a pronounced difference between the last debate in Simi Valley, California and this one in Boulder, Colorado. Besides the stark weather differences, at the Reagan library it was a parade of Bentleys and well-dressed attendees who seemed to represent more of the old Hollywood Bob Hope crowd. Here at the University of Colorado there was a sense of middle America, an earthy John Denver feel to those attending the debate. Aesthetics aside, the difference in the dynamics of the actual debate were even more pronounced.

No longer did we have a Teflon candidate, Donald Trump, that regardless of the veracity of his statements has been unscathed among his supporters. Coming into Boulder, CO Donald Trump's frontrunner status had been diminishing, giving way to Ben Carson. And when we walked in to the arena one could feel the expectation that the story would be about the confrontation between these two leading candidates.

But as the debate began, it was clear that the single digit candidates were out to make a mark. But it was Marco Rubio who made the most of this opportunity with a solid performance. His intelligent and crisp responses to the moderators' attempts to box him in, as well as his answers to what seemed like premeditated attacks from his old-time friend Jeb Bush, made him a favorite among the audience. And as I walked into the post-debate spin-room, it was clear that Marco Rubio has emerged as the victor for the night.

Now we'll gaze with anticipation to the polls, which will measure how the Republican electorate absorbed the candidates' performances. It will also be interesting to see if this debate helped some of the bottom-tier candidates or further pushed them out of the way.

Luis Alvarado is a Republican media strategist with a focus on the Latino vote. He has worked on local, state and national campaigns.

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