SAN JUAN The campaigns of President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden bring people together in a place where American citizens cannot vote but hear from hundreds of thousands of potential voters in the state of Florida battlefield.
The candidates are targeting Puerto Rico in a way never seen before, with US territory suddenly finding itself in the crosshairs of a high-stakes race, even though Puerto Ricans on the island cannot vote in the presidential elections while they are. US citizens since 1917.
Activists know this, but they are hopeful that islanders will push their relatives and friends on the mainland to vote for them in a strategy that capitalizes on the close bonds they share.
It’s a new role that plays on the sense that Puerto Ricans in Florida feel they are voting by proxy for those who have stayed at home apart from American democracy. And a growing number of people find the role appealing, especially as many on the island are struggling to recover from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, a series of severe earthquakes, a deep economic crisis and the pandemic.
I vote for 3 million Puerto Ricans on the island, including my whole family, said Jerick Mediavilla, originally from the mountain town of Corozal and who is voting for the first time in a US presidential election after moving to Orlando there. is four years old. Puerto Rico has no voice. Our voice goes through the United States.
Its residents like Mediavilla that Democrats and Republicans try to target as they woo Latinos in Florida, which has the largest population of Puerto Ricans in the United States, at nearly 1.2 million. Trump won Florida in 2016 and has virtually no path to the White House if he doesn’t do it again. The polls are tight, and as the Trump campaign worries about support from suburban and older voters, Florida’s Latinos have become crucial.
Puerto Ricans make up 27% of Hispanics of voting age in Florida, behind only Cuban Americans. While it is not known how many are Democrats or Republicans, Democrats have widened the gap in Hispanic voters registered for this election on the GOP from 2016. The gains were in counties with high Puerto Ricans, including Orange County, home of Orlando, and Hillsborough, home of Tampa. Polk County, where the Puerto Rican population has more than doubled since 2013, has seen the fastest growth in the number of registered Latino voters, with Democrats registering 21,000 more voters than Republicans. The gap in 2016 was 15,000. But those same counties also have a very large number of registered voters without party affiliation.
Puerto Ricans will play a very crucial role in this election, said Yadira Snchez, co-CEO of Poder Latinx, a US-based non-profit group that aims to mobilize Latino voters.
Election observers, however, note that Puerto Ricans have lower voter turnout rates than other Hispanic groups who favor Republican candidates.
Trump recently got the backing of the governor of Puerto Rico and pledged nearly $ 13 billion in additional aid last month to help the island rebuild after Hurricane Maria. At a recent rally in Florida, Trump said: I’m not going to say the best, but I’m pretty much the best thing that has happened in Puerto Rico. You better vote for me, Puerto Rico. Many quickly noticed that the inhabitants of the island did not have this right.
Meanwhile, Biden gave an exclusive interview to Puerto Rico’s leading newspaper which, for the first time in 50 years, endorsed a US presidential candidate and called on those in the Americas to support Biden: We ask you, with the great power of your vote, especially in key electoral states, help pave the way for the transformational effort that will honor the dignity and advance the progress of every person.
Biden recently launched digital and print ads on the island with the hashtag HazloXMi, or DoItForMe, urging Puerto Ricans to tell their friends and family in the Americas to participate: With your vote there, you are helping us. here.
Both campaigns do so with the belief that it will bounce back in Florida, said Carlos Surez, professor of political science at the University of Florida.
It’s unclear whether the indirect campaign strategy will work, but Luis Gutirrez, a former U.S. representative who served 26 years in Congress and now lives in Puerto Rico, called her wise.
Puerto Ricans “are always in touch. Why? Because if you are one of 3 million on the island or 5 million elsewhere, you are part of a community,” said the Democrat. If you were born in Puerto Rico , it will be part of your life until the last day.
As the elections approach, pressure continues to grow on Puerto Ricans on the island and mainland.
A Florida political group recently created a song to the tune of Rakat by Wisin y Yandel, a renowned Puerto Rican reggaeton duo that rose to popularity in the early 2000s. The song encourages Puerto Ricans who moved to Florida to use their new voting power and to throw a chancleta or a seesaw at Trump to help those who live on the island: he doesn’t care about Boricuas at all.
The Trumps campaign was met with ads highlighting the billions of dollars its administration pledged to help Puerto Rico recover from Maria, a Category 4 storm that caused damage estimated at $ 100 billion and killed an estimated 2,975 people. in its consequences. However, the administration has withheld billions of dollars in emergency aid for months, expressing concern about mismanagement and corruption on the island.
Wyneska Mndez, who moved from Puerto Rico to Miami eight years ago, said she would not let her fellow Puerto Ricans influence her decision, adding that Trump was the only choice to protect the economy. She especially likes the fact that Trump feels strongly against abortion because of his Christian faith, and she believes Puerto Rico needs to sort out its affairs in order to receive the same kind of relief offered to American states.
I don’t let others get into my head, Mndez said while awaiting a speech from Vice President Mike Pence Thursday in Miami.
Dozens of Trump supporters who gathered in Puerto Rico for a rally on Sunday shared his sentiment, saying the president had sent billions of dollars to help rebuild the hurricane as they praised his pro life.
Dr Miriam Ramrez de Ferrer, a former senator and member of the Puerto Rican pro-state party, said Trump’s personality could be misinterpreted and that she thought he was joking by making comments on the island that the critics have found it offensive.
There have been a lot of wrong messages from some Puerto Ricans towards Trump, and we don’t want people to think all Puerto Ricans are the same, Ramrez said as he lowered the face mask of a fellow Trump supporter. decorated with bald eagles and United States. flags.
Despite the help Puerto Rico received under the Trump administration, Mediavilla and her brother, Omar, who lives in Puerto Rico, remain unfazed.
It’s a big help, but really, in the end, I see it as a political strategy, Omar Mediavilla said, adding that he was grateful that his brother was motivated by the consequences of Maria to support Biden. They are our voice that carries our complaints … It is important that the Puerto Ricans there give us this opportunity.
Some who live on the island are wary of the campaign to influence Puerto Ricans on the mainland.
Omar Soto, a production supervisor whose brother lives in Lakeland, Fla., Said the strategies were unnecessary.
It seems there is a tone of desperation, he said, adding that he thinks this might backfire on us. I think it is disrespectful. We should be able to vote for the president.
Associated Press writer Danica Coto reported this story in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and AP writer Adriana Gomez Licon reported from Miami.
Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.
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