Jeb Bush Spoke in Puerto Rico, But Was the Message Aimed at a Different Audience?

Former Florida Governor – and likely soon-to-be candidate for the Republican presidential nomination – Jeb Bush (R) visited Puerto Rico to express his continued support for statehood  and to participate in a town hall with the Puerto Rico Republican Party.

While the island is not a major player in presidential politics, no politician knows the deep ties the U.S. territory shares with Florida better than the state’s 43rd governor.

In fact, during both his gubernatorial contests, Governor Bush won a plurality of the Central Florida Puerto Rican vote. Florida, and specifically the Central Florida region, is home to a rapidly growing Puerto Rican population – and they will vote. There are currently almost 1 million Puerto Ricans living in Florida, with roughly half residing in Central Florida.

Because of the ever-increasing Puerto Rican population, a poll was conducted among Puerto Ricans living in Central Florida to try and identify political views and issues of importance to the Puerto Rican community in Central Florida. The Puerto Rico Report covered the poll, which was released prior to the 2014 mid-term election. The poll found that 64% of respondents want statehood for the U.S. territory, and 81% of respondents would be “proud” if Puerto Rico were to become the 51st state.

The poll also included favorability rankings of several current and former Florida elected officials, with former Governor Bush among them. Bush left elected office on January 2, 2007 after two terms as Florida’s governor, yet he still remains the most popular Florida politician of either party, current or former, among Puerto Rican voters.

Bush’s favorability among Puerto Ricans residing in Central Florida should not come as a surprise to most, as his ties to the island date back to 1980. The former governor ran his father George H. W. Bush’s presidential primary campaign in Puerto Rico, where the 41st president won the primary that assisted in his eventual nomination as Ronald Reagan’s running mate.

Governor Bush’s campaigning in Puerto Rico for his father provided him an opportunity to work closely with political officials on the island and to get to know the Puerto Rican community, which served him well when he returned to Florida and eventually began his own political career.

While most Puerto Ricans living in Central Florida are registered Democrats, the poll found that they identify as conservatives and history, including both of Bush’s gubernatorial runs, demonstrates they will vote for Republicans.

It has been said that the Puerto Rican vote is the swing vote in the swing state of Florida. Bush’s visit to the territory of Puerto Rico, even before declaring his candidacy for president, is in essence an affirmation of the Puerto Rican swing vote in Florida. Governor Bush understands the importance of widening the GOP base to include the Hispanic electorate in order to win the White House.

The former governor’s continued support for Puerto Rican statehood garnered support on the island, but he is surely hoping that his message will reverberate to the large Puerto Rican population in Florida and other states with a sizeable Puerto Rican presence, such as Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania – all of which will be holding primary contests for the 2016 presidential election.

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