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Puerto Ricans Becoming Political Force In Florida, Could Be Critical In 2016 Presidential Election



The Puerto Rican Bar Association in Orlando recently held “Political Salsa,” an event aimed at informing the area’s booming Latino population about the electoral process, and introducing candidates of both parties who were in attendance and are running for local office.
Republicans are going to community events in Orlando, including fairs, and visiting churches to explain the party’s views on salient issues, and encourage people to vote. The Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida has held get-out-the-vote caravans – complete with music, and featuring dozens of cars and motorcycles – fashioned after similar ones in Puerto Rico. The group plans more in the coming year.
And several presidential candidates from both parties have visited Puerto Rico in recent months, sometimes stopping in Florida first to discuss their trip and agenda with Puerto Ricans who live in the Sunshine State.
It is all part of the political romancing of the state’s fast-growing Puerto Rican population, which has doubled to roughly 1 million from less than 500,000 since 2000, and more than quadrupled since 1990. Finding Miami “too saturated,” as many put it, they have settled mostly in Central Florida, lured by its affordability and small-town feel. About 1,000 arrive in this part of Florida each week.
The phenomenal boom of the Puerto Rican community – as well as some other Latino groups – in Central Florida has made the area a critical prize in the important swing state, and made Latinos a voting bloc that is up for grabs like never before.
“The Puerto Rican vote is going to be absolutely critical,” said Helen Aguirre Ferre, a South Florida-based consultant for the Jeb Bush campaign. “A candidate has to be mindful that winning the Puerto Rican vote is going to be very important to winning the state.”
Many say that Puerto Rican voters played a key role in President Barack Obama’s winning Florida in both 2008 and 2012. After decades of Latinos in the state leaning Republicans, in large part because of Cuban exiles who preferred the GOP’s assertive stance toward Cuba, many Latinos are now registering as Democrat and, even more, Independent.
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