Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is paying a lot of attention to Puerto Ricans in Central Florida for his re-election campaign.
During the August 30 primaries, he held his campaign victory party in Osceola, which is the heart of Central Florida’s significant Puerto Rican community. Rubio has been out front on the Zika virus issue, which is affecting not only Florida but also Puerto Rico, home to the most Zika cases – over 16,000 and counting. (His fellow Republicans sabotaged an initial bill by zeroing out a family planning clinic in Puerto Rico). The Republican senator also was appointed to an economic task force to make recommendations to boost Puerto Rico’s economy, which may be a blessing or a curse. Sen. Bill Nelson also is on the task force.
And no doubt he will be at next month’s Orlando ceremony honoring Puerto Rico’s Borinqueneer Army regiment, one of the most decorated of the Korean War.
Shoring Up Puerto Rican Vote
Rubio, a Cuban-American whose home district is Miami-Dade, may shielded in part from a potential Donald Trump down-ballot draft. Still, Trump is anathema to Hispanic voters. Rubio knows he has to shore up the Puerto Rican vote in Central Florida, who are important to his re-election chances for several reasons.
First, the Puerto Rican population in Florida now numbers 1 million – nearly even with the Cuban population, Rubio’s natural base.
Second, Puerto Ricans lean Democrat and provide a counterweight to the South Florida Cuban-Republican vote. During the August primaries, Trump trounced Rubio whose map of support went dark; only Miami-Dade provided a ray of light.
Third, many Puerto Ricans are new to Florida.
Murphy Missing in Action
The good news for Rubio is that Democratic rival Patrick Murphy is missing in action. Murphy was a no-show for two primary debates with Democratic rival Alan Grayson, whose sharp tongue surely would have been lethal.
However, a Rubio-Murphy debate is scheduled for October, and no doubt Murphy can’t escape this one. (Full disclosure: I am a political analyst for WFTV-Channel 9, a debate sponsor.)
Rubio is a good debater, but his talking points have become stale and he is in need of new ones. But sizing up Murphy is difficult because he hasn’t been around much.
Frankly, many people, including Democrats, are comparing Murphy to former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who was a Republican, then an independent and now is a Democrat. Crist has been shopping for elected office for a while; he is now running for Congress from St. Petersburg, his home district. The comparison is not a good one for Murphy.
For Rubio, but more so for Murphy, the path to the U.S. Senate is through Central Florida.
Puerto Ricans Are Miffed
But Puerto Ricans are miffed at Rubio for supporting bankruptcy protection for the island, which is in the throes of a financial crisis, and then changing his mind under hedge-fund pressure. And people still remember that Rubio, then in the throes of his Senate race, voiced opposition to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, implying she is a “judicial activist.” Sotomayor is revered in the Puerto Rican community.
His support of the Borinqueneers is genuine – during the Congressional
Gold Medal ceremony in the nation’s capital he lamented it took so long to recognize the bravery of the Puerto Rican soldiers, who are now in their 80s and 90s.
Support of the Borinqueneers, however, has taken on a partisan flair, as if Republicans owned the veterans. I have attended several Borinqueneer events where the Democrats in attendance were few. Is that deliberate or do Democrats not care?
Rubio Doesn’t Know Puerto Ricans
But the main reason Rubio must beef up his presence among Puerto Ricans is that they don’t know him. Rubio has been running for president for most of his first term as U.S. senator.
More important, Rubio doesn’t know Puerto Ricans. Since 2000, the Puerto Rican population in Florida has soared nearly 100 percent. About 60,000 Puerto Ricans migrate from the island each year due to a financial crisis. Most settle in Florida.
Rubio certainly has his homework cut out for him. Central Florida is a good place to start.
˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor