Obama ad rips Romney for Sotomayor stance
The Spanish-language TV spot will only be aired in the Orlando area, the hub of the large and growing Puerto Rican population in Central Florida.
Campaigning in Puerto Rico in March, Romney refused to back off criticism of Sotomayor, the first Puerto Rican and Latina appointed to the nation’s top court.
“In looking at Justice Sotomayor, my view was her philosophy is quite different than my own and that’s the reason why I would not support her as a justice for the Supreme Court,” Romney said. “I would be happy to have a justice of Puerto Rican descent or a Puerto Rican individual on the Supreme Court, but they would have to share my philosophy, that comes first.”
The former Massachusetts governor described the justice as “an activist, liberal jurist,” adding, “I prefer people who follow the Constitution.”
It took only minutes before his comments were picked up and replayed across central Florida.
The issue put Romney at odds with a majority of local voters and his most prominent Puerto Rican supporter, Gov. Luis Fortuño. It also underscores the challenges facing Republican candidates as they bring popular conservative rhetoric to areas packed with Hispanic voters.
The new Obama campaign ads notes the trail that Sotomayor blazed to the Supreme Court.
The 30-second spot features Fort Lauderdale attorney Nydia Menéndez, who is Puerto Rican
“When she [Sotomayor] was nominated by President Obama, we all celebrated – Puerto Ricans and all Hispanics. But Mitt Romney was opposed to Sotomayor. He offended me when he stated he would have voted against her nomination. … and now he wants our vote for president?
The ad is the latest effort to woo a segment of the Florida’s most independent voters in the Interstate 4 corridor — a wide swath of Central Florida where the majority of the state’s Puerto Ricans live
The focus stems from a combination of factors: sheer growth in Florida’s Puerto Rican population, an increase in civic involvement as Puerto Ricans become accustomed to the rough-and-tumble of state politics and a razor-close presidential contest in which Florida is playing a key role.
Both campaigns also are paying more attention than ever to the U.S. commonwealth of Puerto Rico itself. Many in Florida still have family on the island, which will hold a referendum on its future Nov. 6, the day the rest of the nation chooses a president.
The number of Florida’s Puerto Rican voters has doubled in the last decade to more than 860,000 — about 1 in 14 voters overall. Island transplants and retirees, like Rodriguez from New York, now make up 28 percent of the state’s eligible Hispanic voters. That’s second only to Cuban-Americans, who make up 32 percent, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
For years Puerto Rican turnout has been far below that of Cuban-Americans. One big factor: Those in Puerto Rico, while American citizens, can’t vote for president because the island isn’t a state, and many new arrivals aren’t familiar with mainland — and more particularly Florida — politics.
Voter turnout by Florida Puerto Ricans was 55 percent in 2008, up from 47 percent in 2004, and well above the average nationwide for Puerto Rican voters, according to Pew. That’s still below the Cuban-American turnout of 70 percent but better than the Hispanic national average.
Both candidates have visited the island in an attempt to strengthen their connection to Puerto Ricans on the mainland. In June 2011, Obama made the first official state visit to Puerto Rico by a president since John F. Kennedy in 1961. Unlike John McCain in 2008, Romney campaigned there in March, touring with the island’s Republican leader, Fortuño.
Obama and Romney have also expressed support for the November referendum in which Puerto Ricans could decide to push for statehood after more than a century as an American territory and commonwealth. Romney’s endorsement specifically for statehood came after GOP supporters of statehood walked out of a Republican debate in Florida in February when Romney and other candidates ignored a question about the issue.
In the I-4 corridor, about half the self-identified 300,000 Hispanic voters are Democrats, one-fourth are Republicans and the rest are mostly independents.
As with most Hispanics nationwide, Puerto Ricans there tend to support the president’s economic and health care policies. But Romney has support from Florida’s Puerto Rican business community, and Republicans are walking the neighborhoods in Osceola County on his behalf. Obama won the county handily in 2008, but unemployment in Metro Orlando among Hispanics was above 16 percent in 2011, according to the Economic Policy Institute — nearly double the national and state averages.
Romney headquartered his state Hispanic outreach in neighboring Orlando, and Republicans have been backing local candidates like Julius Melendez, one of two GOP Puerto Ricans running for the House in the 9th District.
Still, the Obama campaign invested heavily in community outreach in 2008 and never left. Obama earned added points for nominating Sotomayor. She grew up in the Bronx, but her parents hail from the island. Obama also successfully appointed a Puerto Rican-born ambassador, despite initial strong opposition from Senate Republicans, including Marco Rubio.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.