Which Way Florida Goes Hinges On Puerto Rican Voters Winning Florida's electoral votes this November could come down to winning the favor of a newly potent bloc: Puerto Ricans in and around Orlando.
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Which Way Florida Goes Hinges On Puerto Rican Voters

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Which Way Florida Goes Hinges On Puerto Rican Voters

Which Way Florida Goes Hinges On Puerto Rican Voters

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

The election season heats up even more week with party conventions in Cleveland, followed by party conventions in Philadelphia. Both candidates will begin to campaign in swing states, hoping to capture more electoral votes. As part of our project A Nation Engaged, NPR and some member stations are heading to political battlegrounds to ask people what they want from this presidential election. Florida is the nation's largest swing state, and its population is changing. Large numbers of Puerto Ricans have come to Florida over the last decade, fleeing the island's economic crisis. Many have settled in the area near Orlando. NPR's Greg Allen has more.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Spanish).

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: A popular gathering spot for Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics in Orlando is the cafe and lunch counter in Sedano's market.

JIMMY TORRES: It's where you get retirees. Also, a lot of single people come here, people like me.

ALLEN: Jimmy Torres has been in Orlando three years, but still has one foot in Puerto Rico. His wife and two sons are there. Ask him what he's hoping for from this election, and he says jobs. For those newly arrived from the island, he says, finding a good-paying job is perhaps the biggest challenge, even for teachers who may arrive here with a master's degree.

TORRES: But because of their accent or their proficiency in the English language, don't allow them to get a full-salary job.

ALLEN: According to the Pew Research Center, Puerto Ricans make up more than a quarter of eligible Hispanic voters in Florida, rivaling the number of eligible Cuban-Americans. While Cuban-Americans have largely voted Republican, Puerto Ricans have trended Democratic. And Esteban Garces with a voter education group Mi Familia Vota says the political clout of Florida's Puerto Rican voters is growing.

ESTEBAN GARCES: This year is one of the tests of how strong the Puerto Rican vote has gotten. Eventually, Puerto Ricans, if this trend continues, may outnumber the number of Cubans that we have in the state.

ALLEN: But what's not clear is how many of these newly arrived Puerto Ricans will vote this year and for whom.

EDGAR COLON: Right now, I'm undecided what to do. I don't like any of the candidates that are running.

ALLEN: Edgar Colon is from Puerto Rico. He moved to Florida after serving with the Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan. Like about a quarter of Florida voters, he's registered independent. He explains why.

COLON: I like to see all the options on the plate. I tend to, you know, look and find out who I think is the best candidate. I don't go to one party or the other one.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDREN YELLING)

ALLEN: At Lakefront Park in Kissimmee, Jorge Maysonet is watching his daughter play in a kid's splash fountain. He moved here from Puerto Rico more than a decade ago and also decided to register independent. It was a reaction, he says, against the political culture he grew up with in Puerto Rico.

JORGE MAYSONET: In the island, the politicians are like a sport. You're rooting for the one your parents rooted. So I'm not like that. I'm like - I choose the one I - the best for me.

ALLEN: Maysonet also says he's not sure who he'll vote for - Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Anthony Suarez believes in the end, few Puerto Ricans will cast votes for Trump. Suarez, a Republican and head of Florida's Puerto Rican Bar Association, says although they're U.S. citizens, many Puerto Ricans care deeply about immigration, and Donald Trump's rhetoric on the issue sends a negative message. And, Suarez says, Republicans aren't doing the kind of outreach necessary to bring Puerto Ricans into the party.

ANTHONY SUAREZ: I know that the Republicans are not registering. I know that Democrats are registered.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in Spanish).

ALLEN: At Lakefront Park in Kissimmee recently, Democratic candidates came out for a festival and mock election held by the Osceola County Hispanic caucus. State Senator Darren Soto represents the area in the legislature. He says Puerto Ricans have been a key swing vote in the state's most important swing region, I-4 corridor, since at least 2008.

DARREN SOTO: We helped put President Barack Obama on top and helped him win his re-election. At the end of the day, it's no secret that the candidate that wins the I-4 corridor, so goes Florida.

ALLEN: It's not just about the presidential election. The growing Puerto Rican presence in Central Florida is changing local and state politics, as well. Four years ago, Soto was the only Puerto Rican in the state House. Today, there are six of them, and two Puerto Rican legislators, one of them Soto, are now running for Congress. Greg Allen, NPR News.

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