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Today, President Obama is courting voters in a place where they cannot actually vote in a U.S. presidential election. That place is Puerto Rico. NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea says Mr. Obama's trip is intended as a message to Latino voters on the mainland.
DON GONYEA: Several American presidents have traveled to Puerto Rico, but 1961 was the last time an American President arrived in San Juan for an official visit - a moment captured in grainy black and white video and scratchy audio. But historically unmistakable.
President JOHN F. KENNEDY: Governor, it is a great experience to fly many hundreds of miles into the Atlantic Ocean to come to an island and be greeted in Spanish, to come to an island which has an entirely different tradition and history...
GONYEA: Very different, but as President Kennedy went on to say, still part of his own country. JFK made the stop while on his way to Venezuela and Columbia. Since then Puerto Rico has been waiting and waiting for another President to drop by.
President Obama did campaign in San Juan during the primaries in 2008. The welcome was less formal than a presidential visit but plenty enthusiastic.
President BARACK OBAMA: We have great support here in Puerto Rico.
(Soundbite of cheering)
But the most...
GONYEA: And he promised that day to come back as president.
He'll be on the ground In San Juan for barely five hours. There'll be an airport welcome ceremony where Mr. Obama will make remarks. Then it's off to the governor's mansion for meetings with Luis Fortuno.
Elected the same year as President Obama, he's a Republican who has more in common with the budget cutting and tax cutting Republicans in statehouses across the U.S. than with the president.
Fortuna spoke to NPR yesterday. He said the economy will be a big part of the discussion. The jobless rate in Puerto Rico is improving, but still tops 16 percent.
Governor LUIS FORTUNO (Republican, San Juan): What I aspire to do is make sure that we highlight the issues that effect the almost four million American citizens that reside here in Puerto Rico. Certainly, the economy is a number one issue here as well as in the rest of the county. And I'll be raising that issue with the president and ways in which we can work together for job creation.
GONYEA: Also on the agenda, the ever-present issue of Puerto Rico's status as a territory and the constant talk of possible statehood. President Obama has been neutral on that issue and is expected to make no major announcements as part of this trip.
Mr. Obama's day also includes a fundraiser sponsored by the Democratic National Committee.
But perhaps the biggest impact of the trip will be on the mainland USA where Puerto Rican Americans now outnumber the total population living in Puerto Rico by about a million.
And those mainlanders are U.S. voters. They represent about 10 percent of all Latino voters in the U.S., a group which voted overwhelming for candidate Obama over John McCain in 2008. So this trip is aimed at a key element of President Obama's base says Felix Matos Rodriquez, a Latino studies scholar and the president of City University of New York's Hostos Community College.
Dr. FELIX MATOS RODRIQUEZ (President, Hostos Community College): He's very aware that Puerto Ricans are an important component of the Latino population. And they are large numbers of Puerto Ricans in some key states. And connecting with folks in the island sends a signal not just to the island but to the Puerto Ricans here in the mainland U.S. that the president cares about their issues.
GONYEA: And that's the connection the president hopes to start making with his presence on the island today.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.�
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