KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) — New arrivals to Florida from Puerto Rico are conservative by nature and GOP leaders need to explain why Puerto Ricans should vote for their candidates, a group of Puerto Rican Republicans told a conference of Florida Republicans on Friday.
Puerto Rico’s nonvoting member of the U.S. House, the speaker of the Puerto Rican House of Representatives and a former Puerto Rican attorney general told the Sunshine Summit that new voters from the island are a natural fit for the party.
“The Latino community in Puerto Rico is very conservative on many issues,” said Jennifer Gonzalez-Colon, Puerto Rico’s nonvoting member of the U.S. House. “But we need to make that a campaign.”
Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans who have come to Florida in the months since Hurricane Maria are prized commodities for politicians facing upcoming midterm elections in tight races. Puerto Ricans often register as “no party affiliation” when they come to Florida since the island has different parties and some may not know the difference between Democrats and Republicans.
Critics on the island, most famously San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, have lambasted the response to Hurricane Maria’s destruction on Puerto Rico by the administration of President Trump. Cruz has blasted the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the White House for delays in getting supplies and money to the island.
But the Puerto Rican Republicans at the Sunshine Summit praised the Trump administration’s response and said it will be remembered during the midterm elections in the fall.
Puerto Rico had logistical hurdles since supplies had to be brought by boat and airplane from the mainland, said Jose Fuentes, a former attorney general in Puerto Rico. When asked if the response had been successful, he said, “a resounding yes!”
“Do we all wish it had been quicker? Yes. But the reality is the logistics hampered the effort,” Fuentes said.
Gonzalez said Puerto Rican statehood has been part of the Republican Party platform since the 1940s.
There is a perception that most Puerto Ricans living along the Interstate 4 corridor in Florida are Democrats. Interstate 4, which runs from Tampa to Daytona Beach, is considered the swing part of the state. But that’s because many of the Puerto Ricans in central Florida come from other states on the mainland, not the island, Fuentes said.
“When they got here, they were already registered as Democrats,” Fuentes said. “Those registered Democrats … are conservatives. And it is our job to explain to them why they need to vote for our Republican candidates.”
Gonzalez promised to bring mayors and legislative leaders from Puerto Rico to Florida to campaign for Florida Republicans in the fall.
U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who is running for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, said Republicans need to present “a good, solid conservative message.”
“We are going to be taking the case to the Puerto Rican community because you know what? They serve in our military more than almost anyone as a group, they care about education, they work as hard as anybody,” DeSantis said. “They are natural Republicans.”