García Padilla stumps for Obama in Florida
The commonwealth part leader, a national Democrat, also met members of the large and rapidly growing Puerto Rican community in the Sunshine State. He also took part in the Puerto Rican parade in Osceola county, which is part of the heavily Puerto Rican I-4 corridor in Central Florida.
García Padilla, who met with Obama during the president’s four-hour visit to Puerto Rico last year, said the national leader’s commitment to Puerto Rico is “unwavering.”
“Along with other important PDP leaders, I will do everything possible to support his re-election campaign. Puerto Rico needs President Obama in the White House,” García Padilla said in a statement.
“We have to get out the message that Obama is the best candidate for Puerto Rico and for Puerto Ricans in Florida,” the PDP candidate said. “I am here urging all Puerto Ricans here to register to vote and to support President Obama strongly.”
García Padilla pledged, if elected in November, to reopen a Puerto Rico government office in Orlando. The Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration office in the Central Florida hub was closed in 2009 amid belt-tightening by the Fortuño administration.
Census figures show that Central Florida’s Puerto Rican population ballooned to 482,000 between 2000 and 2010. Puerto Ricans now make up 27 percent of the population in Osceola County and 13 percent in Orange County.
“It doesn’t make sense that the Puerto Rican government has abandoned these compatriots by closing an office that was very useful for the nearly 1 million Puerto Ricans in Florida,” García Padilla said. “The needs of Puerto Ricans in Florida are the same as those on the island: security and jobs. As governor, I promise to give them the necessary support.”
Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño, who leads the statehood New Progressive Party and has been touted as a rising star in the national Republican Party, has stumped in Florida in favor of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Fortuño’s running mate, Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, has campaigned for Obama in Florida.
Polls show Fortuño in a tight re-election race with García Padilla, while the presidential contest between Obama and Romney is also neck-and-neck.
Stumping highlights power of PR voters in Florida
The involvement in presidential politics in Florida by the two main Puerto Rico gubernatorial candidates highlights efforts by the Democrats and Republicans to lure Hispanic voters to their sides of the ballot.
Puerto Ricans make up the second largest Hispanic group behind Cubans in Florida, which is a key swing state heading into the November election.
While voter turnout on the island far outpaces the national average, Puerto Ricans in Florida have not flocked to the polls.
A growing number of political pundits say Puerto Rican voters stateside could play a key role in the 2012 presidential election.
The 2010 Census showed there are 4.7 million Puerto Ricans living in the states, marking the first time more Puerto Ricans lived stateside than on the island, where the population fell to 3.7 million. The Puerto Rican population stateside ― 10 percent of all U.S. Hispanics ― increased from 3.4 million to 4.6 million over the previous decade, a 36 percent surge.
“Puerto Ricans already account for the second largest group of Hispanics in the U.S., but are growing at an increasingly rapid pace, especially in Florida,” National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Justin Vélez Hagan said in a column for the Politic 365 website. “More importantly, so is their voting power.”
Nowhere is that potential more important than in Florida, where the large and growing Puerto Rican population wields increasing political powerful in a highly competitive and key swing state with 29 electoral votes.
The Puerto Rican population in Florida surged 75 percent over the last decade and now account for nearly one-third of the state’s Hispanic voters. Their clout is strengthened by the fact that the total number of voters in Florida has dropped.
The flood of Puerto Ricans to Florida — an estimated 350,000 islanders have moved there in recent years — has swelled the Sunshine State’s total Puerto Rican population to more than 850,000 and shows no signs of slowing.
Political pundits say presidential hopefuls would be wise to pay more attention to wooing voters in the Puerto Rican stronghold along the I-4 Corridor in the Orlando area, and spend less time in the Cuban hub of Miami.
Cubans, long considered the political powerhouse of the Florida Hispanic vote, account for 36 percent of Florida’s Hispanic votes. However, at current growth rates, there could be more Puerto Rican voters in the Sunshine State by the middle of the decade.
And unlike Puerto Rican blocs in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut that are seen as safely Democratic, Boricua voters in Florida are up for grabs, in part due to demographic differences from longtime hubs further up the U.S. East Coast.
Many first-time Puerto Rican voters in Florida are college-educated and middle-class professionals who have fled the island’s marathon recession. Democrats can’t take votes for granted in a bloc that in many cases is more politically, socially and economically conservative than other stateside Puerto Rican populations.
Puerto Rican voters in Florida favored Democrats Al Gore and John Kerry in presidential elections, while helping get Republican Jeb Bush win election as governor. At the local level, most elected Puerto Ricans in Florida are Republicans.
“Whereas Cubans have a tradition of voting for Republican candidates, Puerto Rican voters have shown a distinct turn towards independent-mindedness,” Vélez Hagan said. “Sure, Puerto Ricans in New York and Chicago are Democratic strongholds, but no party has locked down the Puerto Rican vote in Florida.
“Whatever the reason for the lack of a lockdown on Florida-Ricans, the next political powerhouse continues to stand by, waiting for a leader,” Vélez Hagan wrote.
Romney brought Fortuño out on the campaign trail before the Republican primary in Florida in March. Romney won Fortuño’s endorsement by pledging to support statehood and went on to win the primary easily.
Obama won Florida by a slim margin over Republican Sen. John McCain in 2012, taking 57 percent of Hispanic voters to the Republican’s 42 percent. That’s a reversal from 2004, when George W. Bush had 56 percent of Hispanic votes. Obama campaigned hard along the I-4 Corridor, grabbing Puerto Rican voters to offset the strong showing by McCain among Cubans.
Some pundits saw Obama’s four-hour visit in June 2011 to Puerto Rico — where residents cannot vote for president despite being U.S. citizens — as geared mostly toward gleaning political support in Florida and its potent Latino vote.
What is increasingly clear is that Florida’s rapidly growing Puerto Rican population represents a key voting population to court.