For the Press, On to Puerto Rico — Where Obama May Have Surprising Support

By: Emily Vaughan

On to?Puerto Rico? Hillary Clinton?s March 4 primary victories in Ohio and Texas ensured that the Democratic campaign is far from over. As voters continue to yo-yo between the New York senator and Barack Obama, with neither winning decisively enough to claim the nomination, more and more states with late primary dates get the opportunity to have a big say.

This is a new role for Puerto Rico, which has been widely described as being the ?last to vote.? Actually, this is no longer true. The territory has now decided to move its vote forward to June 1 from June 7, and two other states will now go to the polls later, Montana and South Dakota, on June 3.

Also, in a move of some significance, the Puerto Rico vote will now be in a primary, not caucuses (where Obama has done well in the past). This is no small thing, as it has a healthy pile of delegates, 63 (including eight super-delegates).

Puerto Rico has usually been just an addendum to a nominee?s burgeoning delegate count. But this spring, voters there could influence who the nominee will be. And those who suggest that it may be an easy win for Clinton may not be aware that its governor strongly backs Obama.

Will Puerto Rico prove crucial? ?It remains to be seen,? says Kevin Mead, editor at The San Juan Star, an English-language newspaper. ?It depends on what ends up happening with Florida and Michigan. If they get re-done they could steal a little bit of Puerto Rico?s thunder.? In the meantime, the paper is tracking the daily developments of the race.

Mead?s team has started to gear up to cover the historic election. While he says they will not be hiring any new staff, they will be reshuffling people and duties to give the primaries the best coverage. ?It?s a challenge,? he said. ?This is obviously going to pick up momentum and we?re going to give it all we have.?

Ordinarily during an election year, the San Juan Star uses a lot of wire stories, especially after the primaries are over since Puerto Rico doesn?t vote in the general election. They also have a reporter in Washington who ?gets the local angle on stories,? Mead says. But this year, things could be a lot bigger and need a lot more local attention, especially if Clinton and Obama come and campaign on the island. ?We?ll clear the boards if they?re coming,? Mead says.

In past primaries, Clinton has been racking up the votes among Hispanics, but what will happen in Puerto Rico? Bill Clinton was popular in the territory, and Hillary has continued to enjoy wide support, Mead says. But a hot topic for Puerto Ricans is their status with the United States, and Obama?s clear-cut and thorough position on the issue won him the support of the Puerto Rican governor, Anibal Acevedo Vila, who endorsed Obama on Feb. 13.

Obama supports keeping the status quo in Puerto Rico, with its semi-autonomous standing with the United States. He, like Vila, who is also a super-delegate, opposes legislation that would force the territory to choose between statehood and independence. Clinton supported this measure. Obama also advocates economically supporting the island and cleaning up the former U.S. Navy lands in Vieques, which was used as a bomb-testing zone. So Vila?s endorsement could help garner support for the Illinois senator.

Vila said in his endorsement: ?Senator Obama demonstrates the strongest commitment to Puerto Rico that we have seen in recent times in U.S. politics.?

Still, Editor Mead thinks Clinton has the edge. ?I see her ahead at the moment,? he says, ?and I don?t see that changing.?

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