When Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders stumped for votes in Florida ahead of the March 15 presidential primary, he knew he could not – would not – possibly win the Sunshine State.
Sanders was significantly behind in the polls. But he particularly went after the Puerto Rican vote, a constituency that’s beginning to make a decisive difference at the polls. A week before the primary, Sanders named local community organizer Betsy Franceschini as his regional director for Hispanic outreach. Franceschini, well known among Orlando-area Puerto Rican, at the time was the Florida regional director for the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA) office in Kissimmee.
Why would Sanders make such a mad play for Central Florida’s Puerto Rican vote so late in the game? He couldn’t catch up to Clinton, ultimately losing 33.3 percent to 64.4 percent in a Clinton landslide.
But Sanders wasn’t making a last-minute appeal to Puerto Rican primary voters here. He was tentatively approaching Puerto Rican voters there – on the island, where the Democratic primary isn’t scheduled until June 5.
Islanders cannot vote in the November presidential election but they do play a key role in the primaries, in which the island’s 67 Democratic delegates, including seven super delegates, are up for grabs – more than in Iowa (44), New Hampshire (24), South Carolina (53), Nevada (35) and Colorado (66), to name a few. That’s a rich cache for the Democratic underdog.
This week Franceschini is unrolling Sanders media campaign, visiting island TV and radio stations two months in advance of the Puerto Rico vote in an open primary. According to Puerto Rico’s Noticel, about 250 people turned out for a Sanders meeting in Old San Juan.
“There hasn’t been a presidential candidate who has presented such a comprehensive and profound [commitment] to Puerto Rico,” Franceschini is quoted as saying in the story, referring to Sanders’ opposition to a proposed financial control board as part of a congressional debt relief package. Franceschini called for volunteers to create Sanders’ committees in every island precinct.
Puerto Rico is facing an economic crisis, on the hook for $72 billion in debt.
Clinton, meanwhile, is popular among island Democrats. In the 2008 Democratic primary, Clinton won 68 percent to Barack Obama’s 32 percent. She’s substantially ahead in the delegate count with a total of 1,712 (including super delegates), compared with Sanders’ 1,011.
In Puerto Rico, Clinton has earned soft pledges from three of seven super delegates, according to the political website Greenpapers.com
˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor