Debate moderator draws laughter after asking Clinton if her campaign is 'Hispandering'

Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton speaks at the Univision, Washington Post Democratic presidential debate at Miami-Dade College,  Wednesday, March 9, 2016, in Miami, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton speaks at the Univision, Washington Post Democratic presidential debate at Miami-Dade College, Wednesday, March 9, 2016, in Miami, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

During Wednesday night’s Democratic debate, Univision’s moderator Maria Salinas drew laughter from the crowd when she pressed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cajoling Hispanics with her extensive plan for immigration reform.

‘Your immigration plan is that you would expand President Obama’s executive action and you would push for legislation that would push for legislation that would include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants,” Salinas said. “So are you flip-flopping on this issue or are you pandering to Latinos…what some would call Hispandering.”

While the term drew laughter from the crowd, Hispandering – the increasing effort by politicians on both sides of the political divide to court Latino voters by favoring more lenient immigration policies and other issues important to the community – has drawn criticism from many activists who say politicians are only looking for votes and will not follow through with the promises.

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Defenders of efforts that have been targeted as pandering say critics unfairly are implying that it’s somehow wrong to talk to Latinos about their concerns and show support for policies and solutions that a majority of them favor.

“With 54 million Hispanics in America, you have to wonder why anyone would question their role in our democracy,” said Pablo Manriquez, the director of Hispanic media for the Democratic National Committee. “And every candidate seriously wanting to represent them should reach out, talk about the issues that matter to us like college affordability, and ask for our vote. That’s as American as apple pie.”

Allert Gort-Brown, a professor at the University of Notre Dame, told Fox News Latino that pandering is often a pejorative way to describe a core practice of political campaigns.

“In general, it’s just political campaigning,” Gort-Brown said. “People said that Marco Rubio was pandering to the tea party. Is Hillary Clinton pandering to labor when she says she’s against [the Trans-Pacific Partnership]? Well, yes.”

He pointed out that social conservatives “stress their faith-based outlook in order to make sure they capture those votes when they’re in the primary.”

Where it gets unsavory, experts admit, is when candidates treat a bloc as a monolithic group, or when they appear to contradict themselves in their effort to reach a new sector of the electorate.

“It’s what someone called ‘Hispandering,’ taking an advertisement and throwing some mariachis in there to 'reach out' to Hispanics,” Gort-Brown told FNL.“It’s not wrong to reach out to Latinos or any discernable voting bloc. It’s when they treat Latinos as if they’re all Mexicans and all listen to mariachis.”

“The broader issue is, 'Should they be reaching out to Latinos?,'" he said. "You want to win an election, and you want to get as many people as you can on board. And Latinos are just growing too fast, and are too big [a segment of the population], to safely ignore.”

Even before being asked the question on Wednesday night, Clinton was accused of pandering, even by some Latino groups she was trying to woo, for sitting down with young undocumented immigrants – known as Dreamers – in Nevada earlier this year and pledging to, if elected president, give them broader protections and push for comprehensive immigration reform.

In large part that is because the year before, she had supported sending back unaccompanied minors who were part of a surge that had appeared at the U.S.-Mexican border asking to stay in the United States.

That remark led to protests and heckling at her speaking events.

Political pandering is such part and parcel of the election process that experts and campaign officials have their own insider terms for it – “dog-whistle politics” and “microtargeting,” are two of the more known ones.

The soccer-mom vote was coveted in the 1990s, and NASCAR dads were courted in 2004.

“On the one hand, they’re pandering not just to one set of voters, but to polls generally,” said D. Sunshine Hillygus, a professor at Duke University who has authored books on political campaigns and elections. “I’ve always found it surprising that it’s considered a bad thing to want to represent the views of voters or constituents.”

Designing a message for a certain group, Hillygus said, is not necessarily a superficial gesture.

Although it sometimes “appears [politicians] are not sincere if it looks like they’re catering to the needs and desires of a particular group,” Hillygus said, “a candidate can be representing their principles and views, as opposed to behaving in a [purely] strategic fashion.”

Elizabeth Llorente contributed to this report.

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