Stephen Reader covers politics for It's a Free Country, WNYC's interactive politics site. He joined the station in 2010 and has also worked for Studio 360, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning show about art, culture, and creativity.
Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Angelo Falcon, President and founder of the National Institute for Latino Policy, discussed the significance of President Obama's visit to Puerto Rico and the way changes in Latino demographics will impact the 2012 election.
Angelo Falcon noted that it seems like a strange visit for the president to make. Puerto Ricans can vote in presidential primaries, but not in the general election—so why is Obama making a fundraising excursion there, especially when Puerto Rico's governor is more a Tea Party favorite who's been slashing budgets?
The answer lies in ballooning Puerto Rican populations stateside, Falcon said.
Florida is traditionally known as a Republican stronghold. Now there are so many Puerto Ricans in the state, more than 700,000, that it's kind of changed the calculus down there politically. It's more in play for Democrats than ever before, and this trip is a way to appeal to folks in places like Florida because there's been a lot of growth in the Puerto Rican population there.
Pennsylvania is another swing state with a large Puerto Rican population. At this stage in the campaign, there's plenty of value in a visit that looks good to Latino voters.
Most Americans have little knowledge of Puerto Rico's problems, much less the complex workings of the Puerto Rican government. Falcon cited the issue of statehood and a pronounced, protracted economic slump that's worse than most on the mainland. How Obama addresses these concerns could have a surprisingly large impact on his reelection effort, said Falcon.
The official unemployment rate is about 16 or 17 percent. It's a major economic crisis, and a White House task force is meeting in Puerto Rico the day after the president leaves to talk about economic issues having to do with Puerto Rico. The president is going to be talking about federal stimulus money that went to Puerto Rico to highlight difference it made.
He's walking into a lot of issues which will resonate with how his presidential campaign develops. People don't vote for President in Puerto Rico, but they do raise money and they send a sizable delegation to the Democratic convention.