The final GOP debate before Super Tuesday got off to an encouraging start—25 straight minutes on immigration. Joining CNN's Wolf Blitzer for the questioning was Telemundo host María Celeste Arrarás, who used meaningful follow-ups to demand that the candidates actually answer her.
But after that, she only got in two more questions. One was about building a border wall between the U.S and Canada, and the other was about the financial crisis in Puerto Rico, where Arrarás was born.
Journalists constantly bring up the record 27.3 million Latinos who will be eligible to vote in the presidential election. But having the Latina on stage ask almost exclusively about immigration suggests that media institutions still think of Latinos as single-issue voters.
Immigration is definitely important to Latinos, especially considering that every GOP candidate is proposing to eliminate President Obama’s executive actions protecting undocumented immigrants from deportation. In one recent study, 63% of Latino voters said that either a relative or a close personal friend was undocumented.
But the top issue for Latino voters this year is the economy and access to jobs, according to a poll released Thursday by The Washington Post and Univision News—33% say it’s the most important. Immigration was named as the top issue by 17%, about the same as education.
The other two moderators Thursday night, CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash and Salem Radio Network host Hugh Hewitt, both white, asked about a variety of issues, including health care, the Supreme Court vacancy, and Apple’s refusal to comply with the FBI’s request that it unlock an iPhone left behind by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook.
The Washington Post/Univision poll found that 54% of Latino voters say the country has gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track. It would have been powerful if CNN and Telemundo had had Arrarás ask about the economy, police reform, health care, or LGBT rights. After all, Latinos can also be gay, bi, or transgender, and the issues that some of them face have not been solved with the Supreme Court's approval of gay marriage.
It's unclear who decided Arrarás would ask mostly immigration-related questions. It's possible the producers planned for her to ask about other issues but cut those questions because of time constraints. (It's also possible to think ahead and plan for candidates going over their time and ensure that all the moderators can ask about a variety of topics.)
As the GOP struggles to attract minority voters, it also would have been powerful if Republican voters tuning in to watch their favorite candidates had seen a Latina speak about more than immigration.
Viewers at least saw a woman of color moderating. The candidates listened to Arrarás. Even Donald Trump stopped talking to listen to her. Wolf Blitzer can’t say the same.