Fri. Jul 19th, 2024

Puerto Rico isn’t on the 2024 map, but Biden is betting big on voters from the island

By 37ci3 Mar23,2024

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Puerto Ricans on the island will not be able to vote for president this November. But those from the US territory and living on the mainland are becoming a top priority for Joe Biden’s campaign.

Trading chilly Washington for tropical temperatures, Vice President Kamala Harris landed in Puerto Rico for her Friday. First official visit to Puerto Rico since taking office, the Biden administration has emphasized its support for the island, which it continues to rebuild after several hurricanes.

The vice president highlighted that the Biden administration has invested more than $140 billion in Puerto Rico to improve infrastructure, support clean energy and increase access to capital for small businesses. He visited a home outside San Juan to show how a program funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development helps rebuild and repair homes.

“I think it’s very important to remember that this island is home to some of the most talented and innovative people in our nation,” said Harris, who last visited Puerto Rico as a senator in 2017.

The administration is trying to sell its achievements on the island as the Puerto Rican diaspora on the US mainland gains more political influence ahead of what is expected to be a tight presidential race. Significantly, the state of Pennsylvania has the third largest population of Puerto Ricans in the United States, with nearly 500,000, after Florida and New York.

The Biden campaign is investing more in Latino outreach early this election cycle — and it’s not just focusing on the usual broad-reach outlets like Univision and Telemundo, owned by NBC News’ parent company NBCUniversal.

The campaign is over publishing advertisements WAPA-TV, one of Puerto Rico’s main stations, hopes the message will get back to the mainland, contrasting Biden with Donald Trump’s record on health care spending and reproductive rights. It also airs ads targeting Puerto Ricans and Latin Americans more broadly on local radio stations on the island and in the United States.

One of the Biden campaign officials familiar with the strategy said: “People who are part of the diaspora get their information from him.” “We’re being intentional.”

“We need to put Pennsylvania on the map”

In central Florida — a key area of ​​the perennial battleground state — the surge in Puerto Ricans has drawn more attention than campaigns in previous election cycles. But with Florida leaning further to the right in recent years, Democrats are focusing more on Puerto Rican voters in 2024 in narrowly divided Pennsylvania.

Maria Quinones-Sánchez, a former City Council member in Philadelphia who now works with Boricuas John Biden, a group organizing Puerto Rican voters for president, said the campaign was too late in 2020 to engage with the Latino community in Pennsylvania, but encouraged it. early promotion this year.

“The Puerto Rican/Latino community is not only growing, it’s electing people in all corners of the state,” he said. “So we become the margin that others don’t see, if the campaign engages us and connects our reality to the future of our country, it will make a difference.”

While Philadelphia has long been home to a large Puerto Rican population, Democratic operatives are also targeting other Pennsylvania cities such as Allentown, Scranton, Lancaster and Erie.

“We need to put Pennsylvania on the map and make it a blue state, not a purple one,” Quinones-Sánchez said.

The complicated politics of Puerto Rico

Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017, Maria killed nearly 3,000 people and became one of the costliest disasters in US history. A less severe Hurricane Fiona drenched the island in 2022, but still caused significant flooding. The hurricanes — along with mounting financial problems over the past decade — have prompted many Puerto Ricans to move to the mainland.

Puerto Ricans still on the island — U.S. citizens — can only vote in presidential primaries, not general elections, but they can still influence their relatives on the mainland.

Still, politics in Puerto Rico are very different and don’t break cleanly along traditional Republican and Democratic ideologies, which could pose problems for the Biden campaign’s efforts.

While Trump made headlines after Hurricane Maria for downplaying the death toll and throwing paper towels at residents during his visit, many Puerto Ricans on the island feel deep suspicion and resentment toward the federal government — or any political party — after what many here have seen. like the brutal history of colonialism.

The Obama administration and Congress placed its finances under the fiscal oversight board after the island realized it could not pay off more than $70 billion in debt a decade ago. Many residents derisively refer to it as “La Junta” and see it as another example of the federal government exercising control over Puerto Rico.

Biden has sought to develop ties with the Puerto Rican community in his native Pennsylvania. “I kind of grew up politically at home in the Puerto Rican community,” Biden said when he visited the island in October 2022 after Hurricane Fiona.

Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi was the first to greet Harris at the airport on Friday. He entered a tight re-election race in 2020 after winning by nearly 19,000 votes. He only got 33% of the vote and has recently faced protests on a number of issues.

As Puerto Rico emerges from bankruptcy and begins using billions of American tax dollars to rebuild its infrastructure after Hurricane Maria, the island has a host of controversies rarely seen on the U.S. mainland: the recurring tans; the privatization energy distribution; and disputed tax benefits It is known as the 22nd Law, which critics claim.

Harris visited Canovana, near San Juan, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria. As Harris drove by, a woman held up a sign that read: “Help me for my house. “I don’t have anything like that after Hurricane Maria.”

The vice president got acquainted with the house, which was rebuilt and completed a year ago. Canovanas Mayor Lornna Soto Villanueva said the city received $310 million in federal funds after the Category 4 storm.

“It’s very important that the White House chose to visit us,” he said.

Not all Puerto Ricans welcomed the visit. Some chanted “Yankees go home!” when Harris stopped by a community center in San Juan’s Santurce neighborhood. Others raised signs against the Israel-Hamas war.

Trump campaign spokeswoman Danielle Alvarez mocked Biden’s idea of ​​Hispanic outreach in 2020 by playing the hit pop song “Despacito,” which translates as “Slowly.” during his speech.

“Boricuas will not forget that Crooked Joe sent Puerto Rico’s pharmaceutical industry to China and that President Trump is fighting to bring it back,” Alvarez said. “Biden is a disaster for all Americans, especially La Isla Del Encanto.”

Trump tried it attacked Biden during the vote he passed in the Senate in 1996 for a bill that, among other things, would have phased out a tax break that supporters said had attracted businesses to the island, including pharmaceutical companies.

Erica Gonzalez, director of the advocacy group Power 4 Puerto Rico, said there have been many “gestures” from the administration, but so far they have been short-lived.

“What’s disappointing is that they haven’t taken action on some of the structural issues like Bill 22 and the fiscal oversight board,” he said. “There has been no visible leadership on these issues.”

Whether the Biden campaign can convince him and others in the Puerto Rican community to trust them may be a key question in the fall.

“Puerto Ricans will be critical,” Gonzalez said.

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By 37ci3

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