Romney: My economic plan will bring jobs to Puerto Rico
Romney and Fortuño took part in a rally in Guaynabo where the local government issued $400 bonuses to elderly people, and in which Romney said he already had the support of local politicians.
Guaynabo Mayor Héctor O’Neill, who also heads the Mayors Federation, which groups New Progressive Party mayors, announced his support for Romney at the event.
“I’m greatly satisfied with the support that Puerto Rico has expressed,” Romney said. “Puerto Ricans exemplify the best of North America, as patriots and workers, but most important, their family values are incomparable.”
Regarding his plan to revitalize the economy, Romney said he would emphasize growth and creation of jobs in Puerto Rico, and that he would be “extremely satisfied being able to work on the development that you deserve.”
“Mitt Romney is the best candidate to re-energize the Puerto Rican economic and continue creating jobs on the island,” Fortuño said. “We are very committed to his campaign, and to communicating his message so all citizens get to know his ideas and plans to improve the lives of all Puerto Ricans.”
Meanwhile, the national delegate of the Republican Party in Puerto Rico, Zoraida Fonalledas, said, “We need a new direction, a new leadership in Washington. Mitt Romney has been a successful leader throughout his career and is the right person to lead the course of our nation at a time when the economy is fighting to stabilize itself.”
Candidate repeats Sotomayor criticism
Earlier in the afternoon, Romney refused to back off his criticism of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Minutes after arriving in San Juan, Romney faced questions about his charge that Sotomayor is an activist judge. The justice, nominated by President Barack Obama in 2009, is beloved by local Democrats and Republicans as the high court's first member of Puerto Rican descent.
"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 issue puts 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 an area packed with Hispanic voters ahead of Sunday's GOP president primary.
Beyond Sotomayor, Romney and his rival Rick Santorum have supported the conservative push to formalize English as the official language across the country. In Puerto Rico, an American territory that will vote on its political status, including statehood on Nov. 6, most residents speak Spanish as their primary language.
Santorum made headlines earlier in the week after suggesting that Congress would require Puerto Rico to adopt English as the official language as part of its quest for statehood, a dominant political issue here.
"I have no doubt that one of the requirements that will be put forth to Congress is a requirement that English would be universal here on the island," Santorum told a local newspaper. "That doesn't mean that people can't speak Spanish in their homes, or in their business, or on the street, but that everyone would have a proficiency in English."
In a January presidential debate, Romney suggested that English should be the official language for all states.
"I think our position on English in our schools and in our nation is the same, which I believe English should be the official language of the United States, as it is," Romney said in the debate.
But he appeared to back off that position Friday in regard to Puerto Rico's statehood, which he said should have no preconditions regarding language.
"English has been an official language of Puerto Rico for 100 years," he told local reporters. "Selecting the words of your governor, Spanish is the language of Puerto Rico's heritage; English is the language of opportunity. I would hope that young people would learn both languages, but particularly English."
Puerto Rico is set to hold its GOP presidential primary on Sunday. While there are 20 delegates at stake, Republicans want to make inroads with Hispanic voters, a growing voting bloc across the country, but are complicating their efforts with such talk.
Romney was also forced to defend a New York Times report suggesting that Romney profited from his former company's role in expanding the Chinese government surveillance programs.
"I'm not familiar with that report and so I really can't respond to it," Romney said, adding that he left his former company, Bain Capital, in 1999. "Any investments that I made are managed by a blind trust. I don't make investments in Bain or anywhere else."
Romney is to spend roughly 24 hours in Puerto Rico before heading to Illinois, which hosts a GOP primary Tuesday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.