Univision News is poised to announce a Republican presidential candidates' forum ahead of "crucial" March 2016 primaries in partnership with The Washington Post, after missing out on the initial batch of debates sanctioned by the Republican National Committee.
According to a draft of a press release obtained by BuzzFeed News, the Spanish-language giant will co-host the forum after the four early states have completed their contests and during the run-up to March primaries in Texas, Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Michigan.
The Republican Party has had a complex, at times painful, relationship with Univision — knowing it needs to be represented on one of the largest networks in the country and a critical connection to Hispanic homes in the U.S., but also a place it often feels slighted by.
In January, RNC chairman Reince Priebus told BuzzFeed News, "It's highly questionable whether we're treated fairly on Univision."
And the RNC was criticized in January when its initial slate of debates didn't include Univision. New York City council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, said the RNC was likely "scared to debate" on the most-watched Spanish-language network, calling the decision "shameful."
But a Republican source with knowledge of the issue told BuzzFeed News that Univision never submitted a request to hold a debate, something that was not reported at the time.
The RNC says it sought to limit the number of debates so that candidates could focus on engaging voters instead of preparing and traveling for debates but now Univision is moving forward with its own forum, the existence of which doesn't violate Republican Party rules. But it is not sanctioned by the RNC either and time will tell if the forum structure ultimately violates RNC rules.
"We encourage our candidates to engage with all voters and to share their vision for the future. We hope this forum complies with RNC rules," said Ruth Guerra, RNC director of Hispanic media.
The state of the race will determine the date and location of the candidates' forum, according to the release, and invitations to the leading candidates will be extended then. It is unclear what the structure would be and the exact date still has not been decided.
The release says the forum would happen once the field of candidates has been "winnowed down by the early contests and as party rules begin to allow state-by-state distribution of delegates on a winner-take-all basis."
The announcement also serves as the beginning of a partnership between the two news organizations, which will include a series of polls and joint reporting efforts.
"The collaboration will allow us to enhance and expand our coverage of the 2016 presidential elections and provide both our audiences with the most comprehensive and reliable profile of the U.S. Hispanic electorate available to date," said Isaac Lee, the president of Univision News, according to the release.
The first Republican debate is slated for August 6 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Spanish-language networks Telemundo and CNN en Español were both included in the announced debates. Telemundo's debate will be done with sister organization NBC News, along with National Review, in Houston, Texas on Feb. 26.
In March, Priebus spoke about the debates on Spanish-language networks at an event held by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, making it sound like he was OK with Univision not being part of the initial slate of debates.
"I'm proud to say that one of our partners is Telemundo," he said. "With NBC, they will host a debate, which is important, because together, NBC and Telemundo reach 91 percent of Hispanic households. In addition to that, every debate that airs on CNN will also air on CNN Español."