Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, but the island itself has no (voting) member of Congress and no vote in presidential elections. So what is Barack Obama doing in San Juan today rallying the locals in front of a giant Puerto Rican flag? The answer lies in demographics.
As my colleague Danielle Kurtzleben reported last week:
According to the 2010 Census, the population identifying itself as Hispanic or Latino grew by 43.0 percent from 2000 to 2010, an astounding figure compared to 9.7 percent overall growth in the population. Though 2012 redistricting maps are not yet drawn, the Latino presence already looks formidable. According to 2010 census data, there are 118 existing congressional districts in which more than one-fifth of the population is Hispanic. That is up from just 28, according to 2000 census data, as applied to 110th Congress districts. Furthermore, 93 of those districts are in California, Texas, Florida, and New York, the four states with the most 2012 electoral votes. And Florida is a crucial swing state, alongside Colorado and Nevada, which have seen 41.2 percent and 81.9 percent growth in the Hispanic population, respectively, since 2000.
"Every smart politician is going to have a very dominant outreach if they want to win [in 2012]," says Lionel Sosa, a media consultant who worked with John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign and George W. Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaigns.
Of course Hispanics are not a monolithic block; appeals to Puerto Rican pride will cut little ice with Cubans or Mexicans, for example. There are some issues, though, that do get traction generally among Hispanics. The peculiar and nativist subset of the GOP that dominates Republican discussion of immigration, for example, does not help its party. [Check out political cartoons about the 2012 GOP field.]
But there are also good political reasons to campaign in San Juan specifically. According to the Census Bureau's 2005-2009 American Community Survey, the five states with the most Puerto Ricans are:
- New York (1,092,171)
- Florida (726,637)
- New Jersey (400,750)
- Pennsylvania (316,548)
- Massachusetts (238,346)
Florida remains one of the critical swing states in 2012. And Pennsylvania is crucial, err, keystone to any Democrat's path to the White House, but one in which Obama seems somewhat weaker than one would expect.
- See a slide show of who's running and who's not in the Republican primaries.
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- Enjoy political cartoons about the 2012 Republican field.