ByÂ Dave Boyer-The Washington Times
TheÂ White House is billingÂ Mr. Obamaâ€™s trip as a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the last official visit toÂ Puerto Rico by a sitting president, PresidentÂ Kennedy in 1961. (PresidentsÂ Johnson andÂ Fordmade brief, unofficial trips to the island).
Although the territoryâ€™s residents, who are U.S. citizens, cannot vote in presidential general elections, there are 4.6 million people of Puerto Rican descent in the U.S. who can vote. About 850,000Â Puerto Ricanslive in the battleground state of Florida, and the swing state of Pennsylvania now counts Hispanics as more than 5 percent of potential voters.
â€œThis trip is a very political trip, for those two states in particular,â€ saidMatt Barreto, a pollster on Hispanic issues and a political science professor at the University of Washington. â€œThe population in central Florida has been growing rapidly, and Pennsylvania has a very big Puerto Rican population. Itâ€™s a symbolic step for him to say, â€˜I care about the island ofÂ Puerto Rico.â€™ â€œ
But others sayÂ Mr. Obama needs to do more than simply to appeal to Puerto Rican pride on this visit.Â Jamie Miller, a Republican strategist based in Sarasota, Fla., saidÂ Puerto Ricans in his state are concerned about the lack of jobs like everyone else.
â€œI donâ€™t think theyâ€™re going to fall for just one parlor trick to garner their votes,â€Â Mr. Miller said. â€œThis election is going to be about jobs. This president has been a dismal failure in creating private-sector jobs.â€
Mr. Obamaâ€™s visit could have an impact especially in the Orlando, Fla., region, where manyÂ Puerto Ricans have settled. The Democrat-leaning bloc of voters has gained enough numbers and clout in recent years to rival the Cuban-American community in South Florida, which traditionally votes Republican.
Analysts say Cuban-Americans typically turn out to vote in larger percentages, and one concern for Democrats is to register more Puerto Rican-Americans to vote. The Obama campaign is ramping up efforts to do that.
Mr. Obama campaigned inÂ Puerto Rico in the 2008 Democratic primary (islanders can vote in presidential primaries, which are run by the two parties), but he lost there to then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. At the time,Â Mr. Obama promised to return if he won the presidency. He has expressed the desire to strengthen economic ties with the island, where the recession hit especially hard.Â Puerto Rico has been awarded more than $2.6 billion in stimulus money, nearly all of it in grants.
The White House Task Force on Puerto Rico in March endorsed a two-phase referendum for self-determination by islanders, without setting a firm timetable.
The territory is deeply divided on the issue. The president ofÂ Puerto Ricoâ€™s Independence Party, Fernando Martin, called the report â€œdenigrating.â€ Gov. Luis Fortuno, a Republican, said the option of retainingÂ Puerto Ricoâ€™s commonwealth status is not viable. An opposition candidate for governor likenedÂ Puerto Ricoâ€™s colonial status to slavery.
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