In Puerto Rico on Primary Day

This is our first full day in Puerto Rico, on a much needed vacation with my wife and daughter and my favorite cousin/sister "de crianza" (meaning she grew up as my sister, under the same roof). 

I'll have much more to say about the actual trip later, but I thought it would be remiss for me not to address that today was the Democratic Primary in Puerto Rico, and as the polls closed, we all know the outcome. 400K voting and an overwhelming majority for Clinton.

We are staying in the tourist bubble of the Embassy Suites Hotel in Carolina, but I was craving some local opinion of what this election meant. I got that chance when I visited some second cousins in Bayamon this afternoon, and caught up on old times - old times meaning I hadn't seen some of them in eight years, and others since I was actually 8 years old.

What I gathered was while everyone appreciates the attention of this primary (see my older note about how this race is good for democracy BECAUSE it's going so long) but was in essence a non event. 

Part of that reason is logistical - due to Puerto Rico's "common wealth" status, no one who claims primary residence on the Island can vote in the actual Presidential Election.  So, even though Hillary won by the widest margin yet and can now claim a "lock" on the country's Latino vote (after her wins in NY,NJ, CA, TX, by similar 2 to 1 margins), she can't quite translate this particular victory to the general election unless she can find apartments on the mainland for about 300K of her faithful.

The other part of this is that many Puerto Ricans (or at least the small group I spoke to today) just don't see this as "their" fight.  They just want a Democrat to win the main race and stop the country's tailspin.  Puerto Rico continues to struggle as the rest of the country struggles, with over $4 a gallon gasoline (or $1 per liter as measured locally) and a crumbling credit consumer culture.  People have received their stimulus checks and have begun to tighten the proverbial belt.  Puerto Rico also is effected by the Iraq war and most want an end. My own cousin is stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Despite the lack of representation, Puerto Ricans on the island continue to serve their country proudly and readily.

There are opinions and preferences of having the potential for an interracial (in PR, there is a better understanding of mixed race and what that means, as many Puerto Ricans of mixed race do not consider themselves simply Black or white) or a Female President.  But I didn't get a sense of any anti-candidate sentiment based on sex or race. Refreshing.

Even so, the focus of the political discourse for almost all Puerto Ricans on the Island still centers around Statehood vs. Commonwealth. No one considers themselves a "Democrat" or "Republican", they are "PNP" or "Popular." And from what I could gather, no one candidate was able to communicate their position on the most important issue on the island.  Perhaps that is why the local parties did not raise too much of a fuss to bring out the vote, resulting in about 13% of potential. 

In the end from what I can gather is that Clinton was given the primary win as a symbolic "thank you" for her work as NY Senator on various things that had relevance to Puerto Ricans in her tri-state area and on the island, for her visits to the island as First Lady during the devastating Hurricane George in 1998, and for her household name. Obama to many, is a great guy (in the small poll I took, all liked Obama, but still voted Hillary), but he is a new face to the island, and here, as is in many other places in Latin America, loyalty to party and to political families is ingrained in the psyche. It is why Hillary continues to win the Latino votes by a large margin despite many people's admitted leanings toward the Obama "story." 

Of course, one can look at math and know Hillary's done as a top ticket candidate, and probably should concede, but I do believe it would do Obama and the Democrats well to not ignore her power to overwhelmingly attract the Latino vote. Younger college educated Latinos of my generation and more recent may disagree, but these examples (NY, CA, NJ, TX, FL, and now PR) are too consistent to dismiss casually. Obama will need Latinos to win vs. McCain. What can be done to get more to come over?

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