President Obama heads to Puerto Rico to rev up his Latino outreach efforts, reports USA Today – “Obama to visit Puerto Rico but he has election on his mind.”
While the 3.9 million Puerto Ricans living on the island territory can’t vote for President, their Boricua counterparts living in the continental United States will have the opportunity to choose a presidential candidate in 2012. President Obama’s visit to the island is focused on connecting with the 4.1 million potential Puerto Rican voters residing in the continental United States.
Puerto Ricans can be the key vote in winning a swing state like Florida. The community mostly resides in the pivotal central Florida region (the I-4 corridor) and have traditionally leaned Democrat (but have swung in support for both Rs and Ds). Florida is now home to 725,000 people of Puerto Rican descent. The Obama team hopes that by targeting the demographic and their growing political power, it can potentially win the state and counter the Republican leaning Cuban-American community in South Florida (estimated at 840,000 in Florida).
Already, Organizing for America, a precursor to the Obama campaign, has set up Hispanics for Obama groups in central Florida. They have begun recruiting and training Spanish-speaking volunteers to work phone banks and registering Puerto Ricans to vote.
Targeting Puerto Rican voters, the second largest Latino group in the U.S., can be a good strategy for Team Obama who will have a hard time re-convincing Mexican American voters to support him again. Some immigrant rights groups and Latino leaders, including Congressman Luis Gutierrez, have attacked President Obama and his administration for its’ immigration politics, including deporting over 800,000 undocumented immigrants and separating thousands of families in the process.
If Republicans plan to capture a significant percentage of the Latino vote in 2012, or at least stay competitive with the growing demographic, they will have to start laying the ground work, fast, on a real strategy to engage Hispanic voters. The national GOP and State Parties need to step up their political operations and develop strong efforts to register, engage and retain Latino voters.
According to this morning’s WP: The Fix -“Republicans lay out 2012 electoral map” – the Republican’s road to victory includes capturing Virginia, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Iowa and Florida. Most of those states have large, and diverse, Latino populations. The GOP can’t win those states without having a meaningful Hispanic engagement program.
A presidential candidate can’t win Florida without winning central Florida, that means winning over the Puerto Rican community.