Some of President Trump’s off-the-cuff remarks about Puerto Rico have not won him many fans among Puerto Rican voters. But he may be trying to gain lost ground this year, with a tweet honoring Roberto Clemente on Roberto Clemente Day.
This tweet, from September 9, 2020, speaks admiringly of Roberto Clemente, joining “millions of baseball fans and Puerto Ricans in celebrating Roberto Clemente’s life and his immense contributions to baseball and equality.” Latinos for Trump publicized the tweet.
Puerto Rican voters
Residents of Puerto Rico are not allowed to vote in presidential elections. With growing numbers of Puerto Ricans living in the States, however, the influence of Puerto Rican voters is becoming increasingly important.
This is particularly true in Florida, the home of 1.1 million potential voters from Puerto Rico. It is often said that the road to the White House runs through Florida; Florida has voted for the winner in 17 of the last 19 presidential elections. The I-4 corridor in Central Florida, with one of the highest Puerto Rican populations in the nation, is the bellwether for Florida.
This makes Puerto Rican voters particularly important in the upcoming election.
According to a recent study by the James Madison Institute, the political status of Puerto Rico is a central issue for Puerto Rican voters in Florida. The researchers examined a series of recent polls of this population. In 2017, 66% favored statehood, and 85% said the issue was “important” or “very important” for them asv voters. In 2019, 77 % supported statehood and 80% said that the issue “is important for [their] 2020 vote.” Fifty-five percent called it “very important.”
The 2019 poll also asked
Regardless of their political party, would you be more or less likely to vote for a candidate who will work aggressively to achieve U.S. statehood for Puerto Rico?
Seventy-one percent said “more likely” (45 percent “much more likely”). Only 14 percent said “less likely.”
The authors determined that “In the end, one very reasonable conclusion is that the adoption of even just a certain tone on this topic could make or break a presidential candidacy, throwing tens of thousands of votes one way or another in a state that tends to be won by the slimmest of margins.”
For candidates who will benefit from winning an additional 20 or 30 percent of the Puerto Rican voters’ ballots in November, they may be pitching to Democrats or Republicans, but they almost certainly will be talking mostly to statehood supporters. Just being respectful about statehood could tip the balance.
Roberto Clemente, the first Latino baseball player to be honored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame, was also known for his philanthropy and activism. “Recognizing the exemplary life of the Puerto Rican star Roberto Clemente Walker represents a valuable opportunity to emulate universal values that can help us successfully overcome the great challenges of the moment,” said an opinion piece in El Nuevo Dia, “[I]t is a source of immense pride for Puerto Rico that his extraordinary sports contribution is highly respected by professionals in world baseball and that, at the same time, it represents inspiration for the new generations of athletes.”
Clemente focused on education and economic support for marginalized people, especially children. He died in 1972 while taking humanitarian aid to Nicaragua.
On Roberto Clemente day, many Puerto Rican Major League Baseball players wore 21, Clemente’s number. This is just one indication of the very special place Roberto Clemente holds in the heart of Puerto Rico.