In 2016, there were three debates between the two nominees, 12 Republican primary debates, and 6 Democratic primary debates. Puerto Rico was not mentioned in any of the debates.
In the first debate of the 2020 presidential race, Puerto Rico came up.
Beto O’Rourke had answered a question about climate change, mentioning Miami and Houston as “places that are on the front lines of climate change today.”
The moderator then asked Julian Castro whether he thought the federal government should take financial responsibility for people’s homes if they chose to build them in places that were susceptible to flooding. People are increasingly developing homes in FEMA-designated flood-vulnerable areas. The current administration has rolled back regulations about building in risky areas, and disaster assistance rarely helps people move out of floodplains into safer areas. Castro, as former HUD secretary, responded with a remark that might have seemed tangential.
“I don’t think that that represents the vast majority of the issue,” he said. “In fact, you know, my first visit after I announced my candidacy wasn’t to Iowa or New Hampshire. It was to San Juan, Puerto Rico because people should know that if I’m elected president, everybody will count.”
Castro went on to talk about his track record on renewable energy, disaster preparation, and other points relating to climate change.
Puerto Rico was not the center of the discussion last week, and no attention was paid to Puerto Rico’s political status, which Governor Rossello would like to see become an important issue in the upcoming presidential election. Other leaders worry that Puerto Rico may lose attention as the focus shifts away from post-disaster legislation to the presidential race.
However, the issues addressed in the first debates included topics of great importance to Puerto Rico as well as to the United States at large: healthcare, climate change, and diversity/inclusion are all significant to the territory.
And the discussion of climate change caused at least one candidate to think of Puerto Rico. There may be more awareness and concern about the territory as the campaign season progresses.
Governor Rossello has proposed moving Puerto Rico’s Democratic primary to March 2020, one week after Super Tuesday, in order to increase Puerto Rico’s influence. The enhanced Puerto Rican diaspora in the States, which now outnumbers the number of Puerto Ricans living in Puerto Rico, will have the same effect. This could be a time of strong political influence for Puerto Rico.