Florida’s Gubernatorial Debate Touches on Puerto Rico

Last night, Rep. Ron DeSantis and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam held a nationally televised debate for the Florida governor’s race.The candidates, both hoping to be the Republican nominee to replace current Governor Rick Scott (R), spoke on a number of controversial topics, from gun control to immigration.

The candidates were also asked questions about Puerto Rico by the moderators.

DeSantis was asked, “Puerto Ricans outnumber Cuban Americans in the state of Florida, they could swing this election. So, how do you convince them to vote for a Republican?” Putnam was asked essentially the same question, but he was also reminded that some people felt the Republicans were responsible for the slow response after Hurricane Maria.

DeSantis pointed out that he has been endorsed by Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, Resident Commissioner for Puerto Rico, who is a Republican. He also suggested that the Puerto Rican community in Florida is made up of “natural Republicans.”

“They serve in our military more than almost any other group,” DeSantis said of Puerto Ricans. “They care about education, they work as hard as anybody and so they’re natural Republicans.”

DeSantis believes that “a good solid conservative message” will play well with Puerto Rican voters.

Putnam said, “We rolled out the welcome mat for our friends and fellow Americans from Puerto Rico. We all know what it’s like to live through hurricanes.”

Putnam also said that he believes the Republican message is culturally compatible with Puerto Rican voters in Florida. “They care about small businesses, they care about faith, they care about family and that’s why they’re going to support conservatives and that’s why they’re going to support Republicans in ’18 and in 2020.”

Governor Scott has also issued a number of statements regarding Puerto Rico as he campaigns to assume the U.S. Senate seat of incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL).  Notably, Scott has endorsed statehood for Puerto Rico, as has Sen. Nelson.

Large numbers of evacuees have settled in Central Florida, and their votes could make a big difference in upcoming elections. Residents of Puerto Rico cannot vote in presidential elections, do not have senators, and have just one non-voting member of Congress.

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