The stance of the candidates puts them directly at odds with the most powerful name in Spanish-language media in the United States. Headquartered in Doral, Univision -- whose Miami affiliate, Univision 23, is a news partner of El Nuevo Herald -- boasts of top prime-time ratings in such cities as Los Angeles, San Antonio and Miami, regardless of language.
It reaches 95 percent of the 13.3 million Hispanic households in the United States, where Latinos are the fastest growing demographic.
A top concern: immigration, which is politically toxic for both the right and the left.
In the Republican primary, Perry has already been stung for having a moderate stance on immigration -- one that incidentally tracks Rubio's sensibilities when it comes to helping the children of certain illegal immigrants with college tuition.
Rubio, too, has been criticized by fellow Hispanics for opposing the so-called Dream Act, which would allow certain children of undocumented immigrants to become legalized U.S. residents. Rubio has said portions of the act are akin to "amnesty."
Relative to other high-profile issues, Rubio has remained quiet about immigration, Meantime, Univision personalities such as Jorge Ramos have advocated for the Dream Act. Ramos hosts one of Univision's most-watched public-affairs shows, Al Punto, which Rubio has repeatedly declined to appear on.
As frustration with Rubio mounted among Univision's higher-ups, the network's new investigations team began looking into the drug arrest of his brother-in-law, Orlando Cicilia in 1987, when Rubio was 16.
Ana Navarro, a top Florida field director with Huntsman's campaign and a friend of Rubio, contacted Univision in July in an effort to have the station stop the story.
Navarro said she told the network that the old drug arrest and Cicilia's subsequent incarceration didn't merit two days of Univision coverage because it was an old report, had no current news value and involved such a distant relative of Rubio.
Rubio's staff and Univision insiders say the network's news president offered Rubio a deal: Appear on Al Punto and the station would soften the story. Rubio declined. The story ran on July 11.
Lee and other Univision officials vehemently deny the allegation of a deal and say the drug-bust story was newsworthy and fair.
Navarro said Ramos, also a friend of hers, knew nothing of the deal.
"Jorge Ramos was out of the country when this happened," she said. "He has the highest journalistic ethical standards. He would be completely mortified by any strong-arming that involved his show. He's a tough interviewer. But he's fair."
Three of Rubio's friends and political allies -- U.S. Rep. David Rivera, state House leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera, and Miami-Dade Republican Chairman Erik Fresen -- called for the Univision boycott in a letter Monday to the Republican National Committee and the campaigns.
"This attempt at extorting a respected Republican elected official like Senator Rubio, who is also a proud American of Hispanic descent, is offensive and unacceptable," they wrote. They called on Univision to apologize and to fire Lee.
"We respectfully decline your request to issue a public apology or to request the resignation of our President of News, Mr. Isaac Lee. Lost in the inflammatory language being used by you is that our story was truthfully and accurately reported," Univision said in a written statement issued before midnight Monday.
"More importantly, Univision takes exception to the false assertion that it attempted to 'extort' Senator Rubio in any way, shape or form," the statement said. "At no point in time did anyone from Univision offer to kill or soften the story regarding Senator Rubio's brother-in-law in exchange for appearing on any Univision news program."
Still, the controversy has proved problematic for Univision. The subject came up in a meeting Tuesday between Univision president Cesar Conde, and the Republican National Committee's chairman, Reince Priebus, and Co-Chair Sharon Day. Day, who's trying to increase Republican outreach to Hispanics, said the meeting was already scheduled. She confirmed that the subject of Rubio and the debate came up, but she declined to elaborate.
Lopez-Cantera, a Perry backer, said he was pleased that the Republican candidates decided to send a message to Univision.
"This type of behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated by our leaders."
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