Puerto Ricans now account for a third of the Latino electorate in Florida. Could the results of the symbolic primary on the island increase Biden’s support amongst Latinos?
SAN JUAN — Joe Biden’s victory in the Puerto Rico Democratic presidential primary on Sunday solidifies his position as a strong contender in the 2020 electoral race, according to Eduardo A. Gamarra, Ph.D., professor of the Department of Politics and International Relations of Florida International University (FIU) in Miami.
Biden faced seven other candidates on the ballot, although all the others have dropped out of the race, and he won 67.8 percent of the votes. Biden has already locked up enough delegates to become the Democratic Party’s nominee.
Gamarra explains the primary this year has been unusual, as party candidates have been defined early. The coronavirus pandemic has also changed the dynamics of electoral events and campaigns. The primary election in Puerto Rico was scheduled for March but was delayed until last Sunday because of the crisis.
“Puerto Rico’s primary more than anything ratifies the coronation of Joe Biden as a candidate,” Gamarra told The Americano, adding that “the result was predictable, but it eliminates the issues of Biden being told that the process was irregular, that the primaries did not happen when they should have, or that someone could question his victory.”
A Symbolic Yet Powerful Vote
Residents of Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens, but they cannot vote in the general election in November. However, both Democrats and Republicans invite delegates from the U.S. island territory to their respective political conventions.
The Puerto Rican vote in the mainland could be decisive in the upcoming elections, especially in states with a big boricua population like Florida.
“Puerto Ricans number 1.3 million people in Florida. Let’s suppose half of that population votes. This would be a significant number, as it is the same size as the Cuban vote in Florida. That’s what makes it a determinant,” says the professor.
Gamarra says it’s also important to remember that in Florida the winner has generally been defined within a 1 percent margin of victory. “In 2016 the vote was defined by 1%, and this year is probably not going to be any different.”
This aspect makes Puerto Ricans a community of interest to both the Democratic and Republican parties.
Gamarra explains that usually, Democrats fail to direct campaign efforts to Puerto Ricans.
“One of the big criticisms of Democrats is that they assume that Puerto Ricans are Democrats, so they don’t try hard to make sure they vote. Republicans who know that Puerto Ricans are largely non-Republicans strive to make them change their minds.”
According to his experience, Gamarra thinks Biden will have great pressure to highlight his approach toward people of color. In the case of Puerto Rico, he will need to distance himself from Trump’s response toward the island after emergencies caused by hurricanes, earthquakes, and the pandemic.
“Expectations should not be so high due to the economic crisis we are experiencing. In other words, there is not going to be a large deployment of money for Puerto Rico. There may be more attention, but not more resources,” the professor says.
Based on his own poll of Latino communities, Gamarra says Puerto Ricans who live in the mainland are interested in economic, health, and education issues.
“Puerto Ricans are not concerned about immigration but are concerned about housing. And today, with the crisis we have as a product of COVID, Puerto Ricans are more seriously affected, so I think there are better possibilities for a Democratic government to have a larger amount of social spending.”
Gamarra explains this would all depend on the final results of the elections. The outcome could be different if, for example, Biden wins but the elected Senate is Republican. “If so, we will have the same stagnation we’ve seen in recent years, regardless of who the president is.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.