Puerto Ricans Who Fled the Island In 2017 Are Poised to Tip Florida a nd Pennsylvania in 2020
“There are now roughly 800,000 Puerto Ricans who are eligible to vote in Florida, about the same number of conservative-leaning Cuban voters in the state. In Pennsylvania, there are now 500,000 Puerto Ricans eligible to vote, which perhaps makes Puerto Ricans the largest Latino group in these states, both which went to Trump in 2016.”
While the Biden campaign continues executing a Big Tent strategy to win the presidency, a number of kindred organizations with official and casual ties to the campaign are squarely focused on a group of voters that have dramatically increased in numbers since Hurricane Maria: the Puerto Rican diaspora. There are now roughly 800,000 Puerto Ricans who are eligible to vote in Florida, about the same number of conservative-leaning Cuban voters in the state. In Pennsylvania, there are now 500,000 Puerto Ricans eligible to vote, which perhaps makes Puerto Ricans the largest Latino group in these states, both which went to Trump in 2016.
The raw numbers have inspired Michael Bloomberg to invest in a new ad campaign targeting Puerto Ricans in Florida, part of the $100m the former presidential candidate is committing to help win that state. But from where I sit, the most interesting development is what Puerto Ricans themselves are doing to get out the vote. The hurricane has created the opportunity to raise a little tent that could hand the presidency for Biden in the homestretch.
Scaling the Puerto Rican Vote
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been speaking with leaders of the grassroots GOTV from Boricuas Con Biden (Puerto Ricans for Biden). Created as a social media project in May 2020 with a Facebook private group (which will soon go public), Twitter, and Instagram, they have been laying down the foundation for an effort to accelerate and scale voting in Florida and Pennsylvania with a number projects to engage a number of leaders including the grasstops and the grassroots. A quick snapshot:
Nosotros Somos Boricuas
The private Facebook Group has grown to 8,000 national members with strong membership from swing states Florida and Pennsylvania. It also has members in Puerto Rico. Reason this matters: you do not have to be an island-bound Puerto Rican to get out the Puerto Rican vote. In fact, you don’t have to be Puerto Rican. That’s how social media works. I joked last week with a friend from Michigan that she could be an honorary Puerto Rican.
Boricuas calling Boricuas
A phone-banking operation named Boricuas called Boricuas is running in South and Central Florida with the help of more than 70 volunteers. This is high on the priorities list because Boricuas respond to being engaged by other Boricuas.
An effort to literally mobilize voters, a car caravan from different Latino groups. The Boricuas con Biden caravan was done on the anniversary of Hurricane Maria on September 20th.
Mofongo Talks — a series of expert-led conversations on Facebook Live regarding Puerto Rico, Puerto Rican communities, and GOTV.
Veinte Con Veinte – a campaign I believe could be what actually clinches the campaign. Veinte Con Veinte is designed to help volunteers to scale the VOTE with “family, friends, neighbors, even strangers,” said Natascha Otero Santiago. The idea is to adopt 20 people and take them from Point A to B in the voting process.
The human hurricane
“Boricuas on the island can vote in primaries but not in presidential elections. But if Boricuas were to move to the States they could vote. It took a hurricane for so many of them to become a force with which to reckon. And with so many Boricuas disappointed with the administration’s response to Hurricane Marina, the US diaspora maybe indeed be set to clinch the vote.”
I met Natascha in 2012, at the tail end of a White House campaign to engage leaders to develop and advance educational programs for U.S. Latinos. I later met Gretchen Sierra-Zorita, who supported the campaign from DC. And I got to spend time with Juan Sepulveda, Jose Rico, and Toby Chaudhuri who worked on behalf of the White House and the Department of Education. Since then, we have come together in several configurations. One was the formation of a non-profit I helped start with Natascha and Gretchen called Parranda named after the Puerto Rican tradition of people coming together by knocking on each other’s doors, taking time to share food and drink, then moving on to the next home with the last hosts in tow. The Parranda organization became an international network of citizens living in “The Greater Puerto Rico,” throughout the island and the diaspora.
At the time, it was an interesting experiment. It helped many Boricuas that Puerto Rico matters. As a commonwealth of the US, it enjoyed some liberties but faced constraints in government and voting. Boricuas on the island can vote in primaries but not in presidential elections. But if Boricuas were to move to the States they could vote. It took a hurricane for so many of them to become a force with which to reckon. And with so many Boricuas disappointed with the administration’s response to Hurricane Marina — the “human hurricane” led by Donald Trump, to paraphrase Gretchen — the US diaspora maybe indeed be set to clinch the vote. It would be a powerful expression of the collective clout of Puerto Ricans if not Puerto Rico, and organizations like “Boricuas Con Biden” are banking on it.