MIAMI — Before the first day of early voting began in Florida on Monday, the Biden and Trump campaigns stepped up their efforts to mobilize Puerto Rican voters on the mainland U.S. — including targeting Puerto Ricans on the island, hoping they will nudge their relatives stateside to vote.
It’s a unique tactic that has not been used with this intensity in previous election cycles. But with Florida’s 29 electoral votes at stake, both campaigns are zeroing in on Puerto Ricans, whose population in Florida is about 1.2 million. As of 2017, about 5.6 million people of Puerto Rican descent lived on the U.S. mainland.
On Monday, Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, was in the Puerto-Rican heavy city of Orlando, Florida, where she slammed President Donald Trump for having "inside information" that the coronavirus was much deadlier than the flu and not letting the public know. Harris, who said health care, climate change and criminal justice were on the ballot, also gave an interview to one of Puerto Rico's main news outlets, WAPA TV.
Just over a week ago, Vice President Mike Pence hosted a Latinos for Trump event there.
Biden’s campaign has launched digital and print ads in Puerto Rico, as well as in Florida and Pennsylvania — another battleground state — with the hashtag “HazloXMi,” which translates to DoItForMe. The campaign urges Puerto Ricans to tell family and friends stateside to vote. "Con tu voto allá nos ayudas acá" — with your vote there you help us here."
Puerto Ricans who live on the island, which is a U.S. territory, can vote for governor but not for U.S. president, while Puerto Ricans who live in the 50 states can vote for president.
Natascha Otero, who heads Boricuas con Biden (Boricua is another name for Puerto Ricans), said this strategy is effective. “Florida is the state with the highest percentage of island-born Puerto Ricans,” she said. “When you are island born, you have the highest amount of connections to the island among family, friends and neighbors.”
Puerto Rico’s leading newspaper, El Nuevo Día, endorsed Biden over the weekend. It was the first time since it was founded 50 years ago that the newspaper had endorsed a U.S. presidential candidate.
The editorial said, “The votes from our extended homeland in favor of Biden's Plan for Puerto Rico will make our island and the world safer and more prosperous places for everyone.”
Trump, on the other hand, is receiving support from the island’s current governor, Wanda Vázquez. In an interview with Telemundo in Puerto Rico, Vázquez endorsed the president saying, “I ask all the Puerto Ricans who are listening to me to go vote … and evaluate who has represented themselves as someone who thinks about Puerto Ricans and their needs in the most difficult moment: It’s Donald Trump.”
Trump has been heavily criticized for his slow response following the devastation of Hurricane Maria, which caused an estimated $100 billion in damage and resulted in nearly 3,000 deaths in 2017. Trump recently announced $13 billion in aid to the island, though that is the amount approved by Congress in 2018.
Abe López, a Puerto Rican volunteer with Latinos for Trump and national committeeman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, said that GOP relatives and friends in Puerto Rico are telling those in the mainland "not to make a mistake by voting for Biden — Trump may not win the Puerto Rican vote, but he’s going to make a dent,” he said.
Trump won Florida in 2016 by less than 113,000 votes and he needs to win the state again to keep his chances of re-election viable. As older white voters who supported Trump four years ago have shifted toward Biden in the polls, the Trump campaign has zeroed in on Latinos.
Although Puerto Ricans tend to register to vote with no party affiliation, Democrats have registered more Hispanic voters this year than in 2016. The increase is evident in areas, like Orange County, with heavy Puerto Rican populations.