Will Puerto Rico make or break Hillary?
Last Monday Bill Clinton was in Puerto Rico telling crowds of a couple of hundred people that the Sunday primary is important for the Puerto Ricans living in the island. Bill was telling the small gatherings that you should vote "not for her, but for yourselves, for your future, and for Puerto Rico."
The entire Clinton family was bringing the Hillary message to the island.
Interestingly, in the same video above, Bill emphasizes that "Puerto Ricans should be free to express their decision about the future status of Puerto Rico." Puerto Ricans have been doing exactly that for the past sixty years or so, and Puerto Rico has remained a Commonwealth.
Both Bill and Hillary appear to believe that Commonwealth status is "unresolved".
Over the weekend, Hillary was promising "to work for a resolution to Puerto Rico's status by the end of my first term in office" while at the same time promising to give Puerto Ricans in the island the right to vote in the general elections (Puerto Ricans living in the 50 states already do), a pie-in-the-sky promise if there ever was one: If Puerto Rico's status was changed to independent, Puerto Ricans would be citizens of a different country, and would cease to be American citizens therefore losing the right to vote in US elections. Hence, for Hillary to propose granting the right to vote for Presidential elections and resolve the status, she would have to make Puerto Rico a state. Of course the President does not have the power to do any of this.
Obama, on the other hand, waffled on the status issue. Waffling was the wise thing to do. Instead, his is a "feel good, vote for me" message.
Obama is running a TV ad where - speaking surprisingly clear Spanish - he says, "I was born on an island, and I understand that food, gas, and everything costs more. Puerto Rico has a right to a better future."
Obama campaigned in Puerto Rico last weekend, bringing governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, who campaigned for him in Ponce.
Both Hillary and Obama camp are fighting for the 63 delegates Puerto Rico sends to the Convention. 55 are "pledged" to back a candidate and eight are unpledged "superdelegates". This PDF file explains the delegate selection plan.
On Hillary's favor: The Clinton machinery has been cultivating their contacts in Puerto Rico since the days when Bill was first running for national office. Hillary is Senator for New York, where nearly a million Puerto Ricans live; they regard her as their Senator.
At the same time, Bill Clinton ended many of the corporate tax breaks that kept US manufacturers in the island and Bill and Hillary both pushed NAFTA, which made a lot those employers move to Mexico, where labor is much cheaper than Puerto Rico's and goods can be shipped tariff-free to the US.
While Bill Clinton pardoned the FALN criminals in his last day in office, this doesn't appear to be a factor. I haven't read or heard anyone mention this at all.
On the issue of identity politics, Obama's skin color may actually be an asset, with many Puerto Ricans having African ancestors. Puerto Rico already had a woman governor and most Puerto Ricans will thell you they don't consider gender as the deciding factor. While they might find a black candidate interesting, they're not going to vote for or against anyone because of their gender.
Until recently, the only Puerto Rican superdelegate that was in Obama's camp was the Governor, who is now under Federal indictment for 19 charges stemming from financial dealings in three political campaigns. Obama has picked up a couple of more delegates recently.
Polling has been scarce and informal. For instance, a Vocero/Univision poll on the front page of daily El Vocero (in Spanish) has Hillary winning by a margin of 13% over Obama. However, fifty percent of people surveyed stated they will not vote on the primary, and the survey also does not make clear basic information about the poll itself, such as sample size, whether they surveyed registered voters, residents, or just anyone. American Taino also questions the impartiality of the survey since Univision is owned by Hillary supporter Haim Saban. The results of the poll are similar to what other newspapers in the island have been saying: the public favors Hillary over Obama, but the margin appears to be narrowing.
Hillary really needs to win big in Puerto Rico. She is committed to staying in the race until the Convention, and to do that she needs the popular vote. Puerto Rico has nearly twice the combined total of delegates of Montana and South Dakota, the last two states in the primary season. Additionally, the delegates from Puerto Rico, which is not a state, will have full votes at the convention, while Michigan and Florida delegates will have half-votes.
Hillary is betting that a larger turnout will favor her because she wants to run up the popular vote total.
Is that why she and Bill were talking about granting Puerto Ricans in the island the right to vote in general elections and "resolving" the status?
Puerto Rico has held several plebiscites and referenda on the Commonwealth/statehood/independence issue several times in the last fifty years, every time generating passionate debate and at times huge turnout. Anyone familiar with island politics knows that the "status" has been the hot-button issue for decades. But Puerto Ricans are not interested in the national primaries because of one simple reason: they can't vote in the general election.
The "status" issue is not the factor that will decide Puerto Ricans go to the polls to cast their vote for Hillary or for Obama. While unemployment and entitlements are hot issues, and also (if one goes by the Vocero survey) restitution payment to residents of the island of Vieques, which the US Navy used for target practice until 2003, Puerto Ricans know that all those issues are not going to be decided on a primary - campaign promises to the contrary.
Therefore, Puerto Ricans are not going reward either campaign with massive turnout. Puerto Ricans are uninterested enough that Democrat Party of Puerto Rico officials could not find volunteers to staff 1,000 polling stations and have requested the election authorities to close them.
Hillary will win the Puerto Rican primary, but she's not going to get the large popular vote she's after. The Democrat nomination will not be decided by the results in a Commonwealth where the residents can't vote in the general election after all.
Clinton Beats Obama in Puerto Rico; as predicted, the Democrat nomination will not be decided by this.
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