UPDATED: The battle for voters of Puerto Rican descent takes center stage in Florida politics

by | Oct 1, 2018


The significance of Florida’s Hispanic community in this year’s election — specifically voters of Puerto Rican descent — was evident Monday as the U.S. Senate campaigns of Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Bill Nelson, as well as gubernatorial candidates Andrew Gillum and Ron DeSantis, touted the endorsements of Puerto Rican and other Hispanic leaders.

The big decision came from Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who was in Central Florida Monday where he announced his endorsement of both Gillum and Nelson. Rosselló’s endorsement of Nelson comes despite the fact that Rosselló has worked closely with Scott on  Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricane Maria last year. Scott has made eight visits to Puerto Rico since the storm to provide guidance.

Rosselló called Nelson and Scott “two great people running for office” and said it was a tough decision as to who he would endorse.

“I believe in Bill Nelson,” Rosselló said at a news conference in Orlando. “I am grateful for his longstanding relationship for the people of Puerto Rico and I am proud to say that I am endorsing Bill Nelson for, once again, being the senator of Florida and helping represent the people of Puerto Rico.

“It is a privilege to be here. You are a great friend and you are a great champion of the people of Puerto Rico,” Rosselló added.

Rosselló’s endorsement of the two Democratic candidates, Nelson and Gillum, raises the possibility that his decision could anger Republicans, including President Donald Trump, as Puerto Rico continues to recover from Maria.

“Helping Puerto Rico has never been about politics – it is about helping the island recover and ensuring every family displaced to Florida has the resources they need to succeed,” Scott said in a statement released Sunday evening. “Governor Rosselló is a friend and I will continue to work with him in any way I can to support Puerto Rican families both in Florida and on the island. Senator Nelson can talk all he wants about writing letters or filing bills that never pass, but my focus has always been – and will always be – taking real action to help our friends and neighbors from Puerto Rico.”

Scott released a list of nearly 60 Puerto Rico officials who are endorsing his Senate campaign, including U.S. Del. Jenniffer González-Colón, Lt. Gov. Luis Rivera Marin and former Gov. Luis Fortuño.

The Scott campaign also released a new ad  (see below) in Spanish on Monday featuring Democratic members of the Hispanic community who said they had previously supported Nelson, but are now supporting Scott.

“I’m a Democrat and I’m with Governor Rick Scott,” said Paulo Disdier: “I’m supporting Governor Rick Scott because of the help he offered Puerto Rico, and not just Puerto Rico but also because I have seen throughout the years, his work as Governor has been diligent. He is impartial when it comes to helping whoever he needs to help regardless of race or color and I like that a lot about a politician.  I’m a Democrat but I’m supporting him for the Senate.”

In the governor’s race, in addition to Rosselló’s endorsement, Gillum’s campaign also released a list of endorsements from 15 leaders in Puerto Rico communities across Florida, including Former Governor of Puerto Rico Alejandro García Padilla and U.S. Congressman Darren Soto of Central Florida..

“It’s an incredible honor to have the endorsement and support of Puerto Rican community leaders across the state who are working every single day for the people of Puerto Rico – on the island and here in Florida. As Mayor, I’ve stood up for our Puerto Rican brother and sisters and as governor, I will work to build a Florida that works for everyone — and I will ensure Puerto Ricans are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve,” Gillum said.

The DeSantis campaign released its own list of supporters from the Puerto Rican community, including state Rep. Bob Cortes.

“Ron DeSantis, Governor Scott and I have always stood for the Puerto Rican community and championed the issues that matter to boricuas,” Cortes said. “We have a clear choice in this election – Ron and I stand for more economic opportunity and better education for our children, while Andrew Gillum supports bigger government, higher taxes and less opportunities for our families. I’m proud to reaffirm my belief that Ron DeSantis is not only the best choice for Governor of Florida, but the strongest ally of the Puerto Rican community on the ballot.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1.1 million Floridians identified themselves as Puerto Rican Hispanics in 2016. That doesn’t include the number of refugees who have made Florida home since Maria left the island devastated. About a third of them live in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties.

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