Elections Race for Puerto Rican Voters


Puerto Rican voters were attracted to this 2014 elections caravana traveling through Orange and Osceola counties. /Maria Padilla

The race to appeal to the hearts and minds of Puerto Rican voters in the 2016 presidential elections is off and running.

For months Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has wooed Puerto Ricans in Central Florida, among whom he is not that popular (see previous stories in Orlando Latino). This week his re-election campaign launched a “Puerto Ricans for Marco” group, boasting several hundred members.

Now also comes a coalition with a get-out-the-vote effort titled, “Que Vote Mi Gente,” which roughly translates to “Vote, people!”

Que Vote Mi Gente

The ad hoc group includes New York Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi and New York City Council President Melisa Mark Viverito – all Democrats. The coalition plans a series of community events, including candidate forums, caravanas (car rallies), public service announcements and a digital campaign focused on Puerto Ricans and other Latinos.

At stake is the looming October 11 deadline for registering to vote in the November elections. The Puerto Rican vote is a lucrative one. In each of the last five years about 60,000 or so Puerto Ricans have left the island. Most have landed in Florida. That figure does not include Puerto Rican migrants from the Northeast and Midwest.

100 Percent Increase in Puerto Ricans

The upshot is, Florida’s Puerto Rican population has soared nearly 100 percent since 2000, topping 1 million today, about equal to the Cuban population. Because Puerto Ricans are born U.S. citizens, they can vote.

“Those sheer numbers … [are] a powerful indicator of how great their impact will be in November,” said Beatriz López, communications director for the Center for American Progress Action Fund and a member of the Que Vote Mi Gente coalition in a press release following a press conference. “If candidates and elected leaders aren’t paying attention to this voting bloc now, they are making a very big mistake.”

The 60,000 question is, will Puerto Ricans vote?

Apparently, neither Rubio or Que Vote Mi Gente is taking any chances. Puerto Rican voters have to be appealed to directly. A one-size-fits-all doesn’t work. That’s one reason Rubio started his group (not to mention his high-profile pushes for Zika funding and appointment to an economic task force on Puerto Rico, among other things).

Knocking on Doors

Meanwhile, Que Vote Mi Gente organizers plan to knock on more than 100,000 doors in the I-4 corridor. The coalition states that nearly 1,000 voters have already requested mail-in ballots. It plans to hold caravanas and cafecitos, an approach aimed at boosting voter enthusiasm and which Puerto Ricans like.

For instance, caravanas are popular in Osceola County, home to the greatest concentration of Puerto Ricans in all of Florida. Democrats organized a caravan last week highlighting their candidates, especially State Sen. Darren Soto, who has an excellent shot at becoming the first Puerto Rican congressman from Florida.

“Florida’s Puerto Rican community will determine who becomes the next president of the United States,” boasts José Calderón, president of the Hispanic Federation.

A little hyperbole? Maybe, maybe not.

But, rest assured, neither Democrats or Republicans want to be on the losing end of the Puerto Rican vote in the battleground state of Florida.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

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