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Puerto Rico!

[ 39 ] May 26, 2008 |

With due respect to the residents of our not-quite-a-51st-state, Barack Obama shouldn’t be spending either a nickel or a minute on the Puerto Rican primary. Illinois, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Florida have the largest Puerto Rican populations in the United States, and Obama is going to crush in the first five and in all likelihood get crushed in the last. Puerto Rico, unlike most of the states that the Clinton campaign has determined are meaningless, actually is meaningless for any purpose other than Clinton’s quixotic pursuit of the nomination.

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  1. DocAmazing says:

    On to Guam!

  2. jon says:

    Um, the votes for delegates to the convention aren’t meaningless. If Clinton goes for a floor fight or, other, rules and committee based tactics, Obama will need every vote he can scrape together.
    Clinton hasn’t conceded yet. And first you must win the nomination.
    There’s also a lot of travel and communication back and forth from Puerto Rico. Obama needs to bolster his support in the larger hispanic community, and showing genuine concern for Puerto Rico could go a long way towards that.
    I’d agree that Obama probably won’t make significant inroads into the Cuban dominated hispanic culture of Florida. But maybe he can take a few points off of that support too. Since Florida is where clean elections go to die, and it seems that McCain has to win Florida, Obama needs to create as many advantages for himself there as he possibly can.
    Obama’s also shifted to starting to fight the general election by refocussing on McCain and Bush, acting Presidential and stately, being very supportive of Clinton publicly, and essentially cutting the ground out from under her, while taking all of her air away. Clinton has been left to sputter, and that’s not how you win votes or elections.

  3. elm says:

    I agree that Sen. Obama should not debate Sen. Clinton at this point. I disagree that Puerto Rico should not matter. Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States and they should have a say in the selection of their leaders. That they do not have electoral college votes or voting representation in Congress should not mean that the Democratic Party should choose not to give them a role as well.
    Of course, since the nomination is already all but sewn up, in that sense Puerto Rico doesn’t matter. But, then, neither does Montana by that logic.

  4. McKingford says:

    I disagree entirely.
    I see no disconnect whatsoever between the fact that Puerto Rico has more delegates at stake than half the states, yet has no electoral votes…none whatsoever.

  5. bryan says:

    probably if you spend time and money on the puerto rican primary then all those puerto ricans living in other states notice it.

  6. John says:

    Why are you reading Corrente? They’re totally deranged.

  7. I’m not so sure about Florida … I think the macroeconomic situation has gotten bad enough that Ohio now tilts slightly towards Obama and Florida is a toss-up. The CANF speech seems to be universally well received. Forcing McCain to spend big bucks in Florida is a big deal for opening up Colorado, Nevada, North Dakota, etc.

  8. Rob says:

    elm,
    The idea that Puerto Rico *should* get electoral votes is completely detached from the question of whether, in the absence of such votes, Obama should spend time there.
    bryan,
    Right; this is why it’s important to note those states in which Puerto Ricans might have a significant impact. Even then, I’d say that it’s more important to get in contact with and spend money on local Puerto Rican immigrant organizations than the Puerto Rican primary.
    jon,
    I’m assuming that the primary election is, for all intents and purposes, over. We can argue that, but it requires a much longer thread. Given that, Obama would be much better advised to spend money on Latinos living in the United States than those living in Puerto Rico. The question isn’t whether Obama should spend time and money; it’s where he should spend it.

  9. Bill Burns says:

    As a resident of the District of Columbia I must protest–we’re the not-quite-a-51st-state! Puerto Rico is not quite a 52nd state.

  10. elm says:

    Rob,
    I prefer the formulation, “whether or not Puerto Rico has electoral votes is completely detached from the question of whether Sen. Obama should spend time there.”
    This blog has long argued, and I agree, that the results of the primary elections have no predictive value for the results of the general. That Sen. Obama lost California to Sen. Clinton is meaningless for how he will perform against Sen. McCain.
    In other words, even though Sen. Obama cannot lose California’s electoral votes in the general, the primary still mattered. Even though Sen. Obama cannot win Alabama’s electoral votes in the general, the primary still mattered. Thus, I think that even though Sen. Obama can neither win nor lose Puerto Rico’s electoral votes in the general should not matter.
    If you’re saying that given the state of the primary, Puerto Rico is meaningless and Sen. Obama should ignore it, I might agree but then he should ignore Montana and should have ignored Kentucky and Oregon, because the results of those elections didn’t matter either.
    I certainly think that Sen. Obama should avoid pandering to local concerns in Puerto Rico to win votes while perhaps pandering to local concerns in Montana may be useful if he thinks that will carry over to help him win Montana in the general.
    But I stand by my belief that Puerto Ricans living in Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens and should have a say just as much as Montanans living in Montana do.
    That for practical purposes both Puerto Ricans and Montanans actually have no real say this time around is immaterial.

  11. elm says:

    In other words, Rob, I think I agree with your conclusions (although there’s nuance here of just what would signal it would send and how would the media spin it if Sen. Obama ignored all the remaining primaries) but I disagree with the premises I think you used to get there.
    Unless, of course, you’re not arguing, like Markos did a little while back, that Puerto Rico shouldn’t have a primary, just that this primary, like Montana’s and Kentucky’s, is meaningless. Then I agree with you completely.

  12. aimai says:

    I think Obama has enough money to spend it anywhere he wants. I think the knock on effect of having him pay some public attention to hispanic voters anywhere will have salutory pay offs later in the season in the general. And I would like to say that I think the Cuban vote may be way more up for grabs than the earlier poster implied. I don’t see McCain as having much of a lock on anything at this point.
    aimai

  13. neil says:

    I don’t think Obama will be crushed there. For one thing, recent polls have shown that his status as all-but-presumptive nominee has been accepted by pretty much everyone but white Applachian voters — Latins and Asians, in particular, now prefer him by significant margins. For another thing, Puerto Ricans aren’t Mexicans — many of them identify as black.

  14. Rob says:

    elm,
    Puerto Rico is meaningless because the money and time Obama spends there is unlikely to produce any votes, general or electoral, for him in November. Kentucky, Oregon, and Montana, on the other hand, do have voting rights in November; the money and time Obama spends in them now increases his chances (very high for Oregon, decent for Montana, poor for Kentucky) to win those states in the general election. This has nothing to do with whether he wins or loses these states against Clinton; more time and money helps him in the general against McCain, especially since his campaign is not focused on Clinton.
    Now, if you think that spending money and time in Puerto Rico will win votes for Obama in November among the Puerto Rican population in the non-PR US, you have to convince me that spending money in PR is better than spending money in the immigrant PR community in the US; of this I am not convinced.

  15. global yokel says:

    I don’t like the idea of regarding any state or territory as “meaningless.” It’s important to show your face and compete everywhere, because the smart new Democrats like Dean and Obama are trying to acheive a wholesale relalignment of the voting demographics in the USA, and that approach is already bearing fruit.
    Obama isn’t running just to get himself elected; he is hoping to create a tidal wave of voter turnout in November that will marginalize the Republicans for the forseeable future. Targeting particular states with money and energy is exactly the wrong approach.

  16. Rob says:

    GY,
    “Targeting particular states with money and energy is exactly the wrong approach.”
    Um….
    So you’d throw the same amount of money into Illinois that you’d throw into Ohio?
    One of the strongest points that pro-Clinton bloggers have made is that Obama is, after all, just a Presidential candidate; he has to get to 270 just like everyone else. Getting to 270 requires a strategic distribution of resources; time, money, people. Putting money in Puerto Rico doesn’t help him get to 270 at all; putting money into Illinois or Alabama helps him just a little, and putting money into Ohio helps him a whole lot.

  17. elm says:

    Rob,
    OK, if this is a matter of strategy, I don’t entirely disagree. Again, there’s a question of media narrative and, as aimai said, it’s not like Obama doesn’t have the money. (And it can’t be saved up for the general.) There probably are better states for Sen. Obama to spend his money and time, though I suspect he has to spend some money and time on PR. (The “I’ve been everywhere but Kentucky” moment was a bit of an embarrassment that one trip would have prevented without much cost.)
    I just think that the declaration that Puerto Rico is “meaningless” because it does not have electoral votes up for grabs in Nov. is very Pennish. There are plenty of states not up for grabs in Nov. Are they meaningless, too? Isn’t that what Penn was arguing when discounting Sen. Obama’s wins?
    (Granted, of course, that Penn was discounting wins, too, in states that are up for grabs and that Penn wanted to include states not up for grabs that Sen. Clinton won like Calif. and NJ. But I think the argument Penn presented was flawed not just his examples to support the argument.)
    This really isn’t that much of a principled position on my part. A system where only places with electoral college votes had primary votes would be a perfectly acceptable system in my mind. I think a system that includes all citizens is better, but the alternative isn’t bad.
    But the current rules give Puerto Rico delegates. And if Puerto Rico is meaningless, then either so are Washington D.C. and Utah, because there’s no way those electoral votes are in play, or so are Montana and Kentucky, because the nomination was already decided when they voted or will vote.

  18. Rob says:

    elm,
    Granted that Penn has rather raised the bar for use of the term “meaningless”, but even DC and Utah are rather a different order of meaningless than Puerto Rico; spending in the latter, at least, helps candidates in down ticket races, helps build party structure for the future, and helps with the (if only symbolically meaningful) popular vote tally.
    I don’t think he “has to” spend a dime in Puerto Rico; I think that any money he has to spend would be better spent in Montana, where there’s the possibility of making a real race of things.
    If the Puerto Rico primary had taken place in March, it would have been meaningful; Obama would have been well-advised to spend money there. If Puerto Rico had electoral votes, or if it contributed to the popular vote tally, or if it had down ticket races such that expenditure of money would assist Democratic efforts to increase their margin in the Senate and the House, then it would similarly be meaningful. Those conditions, however, don’t hold. Puerto Rico’s primary election may well have symbolic meaning for the Puerto Ricans who are voting, but that meaning is completely independent of the question of whether Obama spends a dime there, and has no larger electoral significance.

  19. elm says:

    So it’s the combination of lack of downticket races, late primary schedule, and electoral votes not in play that defines meaningless?
    OK, that’s a defensible definition. As long as you admit that had D.C. had its election next week they, too, would have been meaningless.
    I agree that, after a certain point, Sen. Obama’s money is better spent in Montana than Puerto Rico. I do think, though, that he needs to spend some money in PR: one trip, some for local organizing, a couple of ads. Can you imagine what the media narrative would be if Sen. Clinton were campaigning in Puerto Rico and Sen. Obama wasn’t?
    It would be non-stop discussions about whether Sen. Obama has a problem with the Latino vote and what affect this would have on the general and what signal would be sent to Latino voters that apparently Sen. Obama doesn’t care about them. (I’m not saying that Sen. Obama not going to PR should send this signal, just that the press would probably claim it did.) I don’t know how much this would hurt Sen. Obama, but it sure wouldn’t hurt. And minimal investment would forestall it.
    (Now, though, we’re debating over just how little time Sen. Obama should spend in Puerto Rico. But it’s a quiet Memorial Day and the Yankee game wasn’t much fun (damn Jeter!) so else am I gonna do?)

  20. elm says:

    “what affect” should clearly be “what effect.”
    My apologies.

  21. Rob says:

    Jeter… I HATE HIM SO MUCH!!!!!

  22. Darkness says:

    Puerto Rico so loves politics, to the tips of their sandy-beach-washed toes. Why rob them of such joy? Unlike everyone else at this point, they will actually have FUN with this.

  23. Veritas78 says:

    Let’s celebrate their votes and then ignore them for four years, like we always have.

  24. snarkout says:

    I’m with elm — while I think a decision to pivot to the general and focus on (say) Virginia and Michigan would be sensible, what you don’t want is two weeks of the media nannering about Obama’s weakness with Latinos and how Strong McMaverick is totally going to put this swing vote into play for the Republicans. Because you know the media will do it if given an opening.

  25. DocAmazing says:

    Having spent both time and money in Puerto Rico, I heartily recommend it to anyone, Mr. Obama included.

  26. Anonymous says:

    this puerto rican, in a state whose primary really doesn’t matter and who won’t be surprised if her blue state goes red in the general, doesn’t care…

  27. bean says:

    Ok, I’m late to this since I unplugged all weekend, but…when I was in PR last week, I flew on a little 9-seater plane from San Juan to Vieques with an Obama organizer. Now THAT’s serious grassroots work. A small island with very few inhabitants, all of whom can vote in the primary but not the general.

  28. bryan says:

    “Right; this is why it’s important to note those states in which Puerto Ricans might have a significant impact. Even then, I’d say that it’s more important to get in contact with and spend money on local Puerto Rican immigrant organizations than the Puerto Rican primary.

    well that sounds reasonable but what research have you done into the wants of Puerto Ricans living in various states, probably the same that I have, none. So we’re sort of just theorizing what those wants might be, but my theory would be that my primary (emotional) want as a Puerto Rican living elsewhere would be to have Puerto Rico acknowledged, so that by spending on normal democratic principles in my state and acknowledging that Puerto Rico exists even if you never come talk to me I would feel extremely motivated to get out the puerto rican vote.
    And probably my top emotional and other type of want would be for Puerto Rico to actually be a state. And I might think the guy who is willing to campaign there even when it doesn’t seem to be that important for his needs might be actually willing to work for that want of mine, even if it is never enunciated. Hell I might not even think these things consciously I might just feel them.
    So I’m thinking strategically, given the amount of funding Obama has, it might be really smart. But I don’t really know, I don’t think anybody in this thread does actually.

  29. jon says:

    Rob,
    Obama doesn’t have a victory in the primary yet. Until he has a demonstrable, durable majority, that can sustain challenges at the convention, he has a duty to aggressively seek every vote that he can, wherever they exist. His nomination is not guaranteed. That makes campaigning in Puerto Rico important.
    If Obama already had the nomination and Clinton’s concession, or if he campaign in Puerto Rico ahead of the general election, I’d agree with you enthusiastically.
    Clinton represents the largest concentration of Puerto Ricans, who live in New York City, so she might be able to anticipate some familiarity and greater support among Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico. Meaning that Obama must campaign harder to seek their votes.
    Obama campaigning in unusual spots also helps to take oxygen away from both Clinton and McCain, and builds his media narrative. We’re certainly paying attention to this. And what was Clinton up to this weekend? What a Uniter…
    As for the efficacy of Obama spending his money, I think that Puerto Rico also makes sense. How much benefit will he really get from taking that budget and visiting several other Puerto Rican communities elsewhere in the US? I think it would mainly make waves in those local markets, and potentially in the larger Hispanic community. But it could also foster some resentment among other segments of the Hispanic community, if he hasn’t also visited Mexican, Dominican, Haitian, Brazilian and other communities.
    By going to Puerto Rico (and who else has ever done that?) almost every Puerto Rican and Hispanic in the country will hear about it. And it can provide good media footage for use in local hispanic markets in the general election. I think that counts as money well spent.

  30. Rob says:

    jon,
    Visiting Puerto Rican communities in the United States will foster resentment in other Latino groups, but visiting Puerto Rico itself will help Obama with those groups?

  31. Galrahn says:

    I wouldn’t assume New York will go Obama, certainly not if I was Obama.
    Obama will spend a fortune in New York to win it, and even then I expect it to be very close. The margins in the city are much closer than people want to admit, and Obama loses the rest of the state to McCain.

  32. elm says:

    Galrahn,
    Do you have any evidence for that assertion? Polls this far out are not all that meaningful, but they’re also not meaningless and they’re among the best evidence we have. There also hasn’t been much recent polling in NY, but what polling there has been suggests you’re completely wrong.
    According to Pollster.com, Siena, a firm I’m not familiar with, did a poll a couple of weeks ago showing that Obama has an 11 point lead. Rasmussen did a poll at the end of April giving Obama a 17 point lead. Survey USA’s poll of mid April gave Obama a 9 point lead and Quinnipiac’s mid Marcg poll gave him an 11 point lead. The only recent poll showing a close election was an early April WNBC/Marist poll giving McCain a 2-point lead, but that sure seems like the outlier here. The Pollster.com average gives Obama an 11 point lead.
    Why do you think it’s going to be closer than this?

  33. Erik says:

    Elm,
    Siena is a college in NY. It is likely that they did the poll you are discussing.

  34. jon says:

    Rob,
    Yes.
    It’s more effective and has a wider reach because it happens at a greater distance. It signals much more than any specifics of the trip, and creates an induced emotional link amongst those with shared geographies, ethnicities, etc.
    Just like when the Pope goes to another country/continent to give masses. Just like when HW Bush and Bill Clinton toured for Tsunami support.
    People respond at a deep emotional level when someone in power shows appreciation and concern for your ancestral lands.
    And maybe some Puerto Ricans will hop a plane and register to vote in time for the general election in a variety of locales, helping to drag down a few more electoral votes. Or some might decide to volunteer for Obama’s campaign, in order to participate in the election and expand their effective political power, when denied electoral votes of their own.
    By your lights, Obama shouldn’t have spoken at Wesleyan this weekend, in Ted Kennedy’s place. Connecticut will almost certainly go Democratic in the Fall, so it was a wasted trip and effort. He should have been in Montana.
    Don’t you think there are follow-on benefits to the Democratic primary going so long? Lots of states and locales are getting visited by campaigns when they never have before. Lots of national figures are out in the sticks shaking hands and listening to folks. This should build turnout in the Fall, and should also benefit the whole ticket. And it’s a good way to outrun the media narrative they’re trying to force him into.

  35. Rob says:

    “Lots of states and locales are getting visited by campaigns when they never have before. Lots of national figures are out in the sticks shaking hands and listening to folks. This should build turnout in the Fall, and should also benefit the whole ticket.”
    jon,
    Connecticut has downticket races. Connecticut will vote in November. Connecticut is a place that may not always be strongly Dem, and as such the construction of a strong Dem organization is a positive.
    Puerto Rico is none of these things. The time Obama spends in Puerto Rico and the money he spends there are time and money that are not spent somewhere else, inspiring someone else who’s much more likely to vote and participate in local organizations that will have an impact now and down the road.

  36. Galrahn says:

    elm,
    Siena is reputable. I don’t have much evidence in terms of polling, if that is evidence in May, but living here I can say the divide between Hillary and Obama is sharper than most places.
    Seems like a perfect storm working against Obama, meaning he will have to work harder than he thinks.
    New York traditionally likes Maverick Republicans, always has, and the state Dems couldn’t be hurting the party more right now even if they had a plan to do so.
    Here is one statistic that has my attention though. Party registration statewide is down for both Republicans and Democrats in 2007. Only 9 counties are up in both, all towards the city, and the increase doesn’t amount to the total state decrease. I think that more than any poll is one reason to be concerned for 2008.
    That Republicans are down, understandable, but Dems too? Somthing to watch.

  37. Rafael says:

    The irony is that we (Puerto Rico) would not even be on the media map (which somehow brings chuckles to the lips of people like Olbermann and Mathews, and I like Olbermann!) if it where not for this long drawn out Democratic campaign. Otherwise nobody would bother.
    It is nice to know that otherwise we are…ahem…meaningless.

  38. elm says:

    I’ve heard of Siena College. I’m a bit ashamed I didn’t put two and two together, there.
    Galrahn, I strongly believe that most Clinton supporters will vote for Sen. Obama in Nov. regardless of what they say now (and the reverse would have been true if Sen. Clinton had won.) You’re probably right that there will be more holdouts in NY than elsewhere, but I just think the Dems hold such a strong base advantage in presidential elections in NY that this won’t matter. Of course, Sen. Obama should take no states for granted right now (except, perhaps, Illinois and D.C.), but it will surprise me greatly if, when polling does start to matter later this summer, we find NY to be in play. Kerry won NY by 20, Gore by 25. Maybe it will be closer this year, but it’s not going to be close enough to matter.
    That’s too big a gap for the Republicans to close in a year where all the fundamentals are against the Republicans.

  39. Hogan says:

    That Republicans are down, understandable, but Dems too? Somthing to watch.
    It would be good to know who’s up in this case. If it’s, say, the Working Families Party, that’s not necessarily bad news for the Democratic presidential ticket.

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