Bill Clinton urged Puerto Ricans on Wednesday to take advantage of their rare opportunity to affect the U.S. presidential election in what has turned out to be key in the hunt for the Democratic nomination.
Barack Obama could win enough delegates to clinch the nomination if he wins at least 30 percent of the vote on Sunday. Hillary Rodham Clinton wants to pile up a big victory to back her claim of winning a majority of the primary popular vote nationwide.
But both have received lukewarm receptions from islanders, who generally do not identify with any mainland party and who do not have the right to vote in November's presidential election.
Campaign events, even those featuring the candidates themselves, have not attracted more than a couple hundred people.
"This is almost a new experiment in political science for the people of Puerto Rico," said Roberto Prats, the island's Democratic Party chairman and a Clinton campaign chairman. He noted the last presidential primary here was nearly 30 years ago.
The former U.S. president encountered nearly as many picture-snapping American tourists as Puerto Rican voters as he strolled through a narrow street in colonial Old San Juan.
"Right now, I'm just trying to get a big turnout," Bill Clinton told The Associated Press as he and his daughter Chelsea worked a crowd of cheering onlookers along a rope line.
Clinton told islanders the primary could have important consequences for Puerto Rico, which has 55 delegates. His wife's election would bring improvements to the island's education, health care and energy policy, he said.
"It matters to Puerto Rico who gets elected," he told students at a photojournalism workshop earlier Wednesday. "Puerto Rico can have a very important voice in the election."
Some islanders who turned out to see the former president said they like Hillary Clinton's proposals to remove caps on local Medicare spending and her pledges to create employment.
"She promised jobs, and that's what we really need," said David Quintana, a 21-year-old security guard.
But Jose Sanchez, 36, said he believes both presidential hopefuls are making false promises.
"They offer and offer," Sanchez said after Clinton spoke at a college in Bayamon. "But when it comes down to it, they come here looking for votes and leave."
Luis Alfonso Melendez, a 46-year-old community organizer who lives in Old San Juan, said he believes the primary is a "farse" because islanders cannot vote in the general election.
Obama visited the island on Saturday. Hillary Clinton recently finished a three-day campaign swing through Puerto Rico and is expected to return on Friday.