How Not to Woo Puerto Ricans

How Not to Woo Puerto Ricans


On Sunday, Puerto Rico will hold its Republican primary. Both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are competing to win the Island’s 23 delegates.  Romney is expected to win the primary, which might explain why his campaign is unafraid of using a well-known Puerto Rican as a political punching bag.

Since the Michigan primaries, the Romney campaign has been running attack ads against Rick Santorum for supporting Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the appellate court. Now they’re bringing the same swipes online.  This week, Alberto Martinez, an advisor to the Romney campaign tweeted: “Sotomayor is a dyed-in-the-wool liberal activist judge. Latinos who base their votes around her probably not voting GOP anyways.”

The Sotomayor attack is meant to call Santorum’s conservative credentials into question, but it doesn’t seem to be working: Romney is losing conservative voters to Santorum and Gingrich.

Moreover, even if Martinez’s analysis is right in most primaries, can it be right in Puerto Rico?  How about in a General election?  For a candidate that has already estranged Latino voters with his immigration positions, does he really need to give the community another reason to write him off?

“This unprovoked attack is another example of how Romney and the Republican Party are pushing the Latino vote to Obama,” Angelo Falcon, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy wrote in an email. “They forget that Judge Sotomayor is an icon for the Latino community. It’s like attacking Martin Luther King or George Washington, for blacks and whites.”

Meanwhile, Democrats are working furiously to draw attention to the issue. “With every new attack against Justice Sotomayor, Mitt Romney makes it clearer that he is willing to turn his back on priorities of the Hispanic community if it means he’ll score a political point with the far-right wing of the Republican Party,” Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) said in a statement. “Romney is willing to reduce Justice Sotomayor to a political pawn in his bid to pander to the Tea Party, but she should not be a campaign strategy.”

Not to be outdone, Santorum waded into the debate over Puerto Rican status through an odd back-channel: calling English a requirement of statehood.

“Like any other state, there has to be compliance with this and any other federal law,” Santorum said. “And that is that English has to be the principal language. There are other states with more than one language such as Hawaii but to be a state of the United States, English has to be the principal language.”

It’s an odd position, considering there is no federal law mandating English as an official language, and most Puerto Ricans speak both English and Spanish. Beyond the Island, it also opens an English-only can of words. As fellow Politic365 contributor Jean Vidal Font wrote, “Issues like the one raised by Santorum are of particular importance to the millions of Hispanics in the U.S.”

While Romney is expected to win the Puerto Rican primary, expect these statements and attacks to be repurposed in the General election, especially as both parties try to woo Puerto Ricans across the country and specifically in Florida’s I-4 corridor.