Democratic Vice Presidential Candidate Tim Kaine has recently come under scrutiny for his Spanish language skills. While Kaine memorably began his first public speech as the Vice Presidential nominee with a call for unity in Spanish—having picked up the language while working with missionaries in Honduras—according to the College Board, Kaine may be lacking.
A new round of non-server Clinton emails obtained by an anonymous hacker reveals that Clinton employed the AP Spanish Language exam as a key criterion in her Vice Presidential decision. When deciding between Kaine, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, and Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, the issue of language emerged as an important factor for Clinton and advisors. According to a source close to the Clinton campaign, “Besides the growing importance of the Hispanic voter bloc, Hillary has been trying to put that whole ‘Abuela’ incident behind her.” Apparently mistranslating “rightful heir” as “abuela” in a series of promotional images in December of 2015, Clinton has since been extremely cautious in her use of the Spanish language, motivating the importance she placed on comfort with the language in a VP pick.
The newly released emails show that in mid-July, Clinton, still struggling with a decision, turned to a tie-break the form of the AP Spanish Language exam. The results, with Castro and Perez scoring twos respectively (“possibly qualified”) and Kaine scoring a 3 (“qualified”), tipped the odds in Kaine’s favor. While Kaine may have bested his rivals, his scores have left some questioning how he can call himself fluent, even if he appears to be when speaking. Mike Pence has already weighed in on the controversy, after silently purchasing juice from a bodega and attempting to pay with a checkbook on a Facebook Live feed, he commented to the establishment’s owner that Tim Kaine’s “pantalones es are fuego” and that Kaine “no es un pájaro azul.”
Kaine’s representatives have already fired back, saying that the tests were harshly graded, but conceding that Kaine admittedly had trouble with the listening section. The listening section was, according to a campaign spokesperson, “one of those ones with a lot of random background noise and the speaker also had a strong Argentinian accent, so it wasn’t even on fair terms.” Moreover, it seems that Kaine’s microphone may have malfunctioned during the speaking portion of the test, causing parts of his answers to be lost.
Despite arguments from either side of the aisle, the closeness of Kaine, Perez, and Castro’s scores does seem to call Clinton’s ultimate decision into question. With only a point dividing them, many doubt that Kaine will be able to effectively connect with Hispanic voters, especially when holding anyone’s attention for more than thirty seconds has already proven difficult for Kaine according to leaked focus group results. Local Philadelphia voter Christopher Gutierrez is unsure of the choice, “Thinking about the decision months later, it’s questionable that Hillary thought that just because an older, almost aggressively white guy speaks Spanish more fluently than Castro or Perez that Hispanic voters would somehow like him more.” Echoing his sentiments is Penn student Amanda Garcia, “Like, I’m taking Spanish at Penn…I don’t speak it at home…it wasn’t my first language, no…can you please stop asking me these questions in Spanish?”
Despite these revelations, Kaine promises to continue using Spanish on the campaign trail and is practicing for another attempt at the AP test this coming May where he intends to score a 5.