My bad. Contrary to what I wrote last week, the Missouri caucuses on Saturday are just the beginning of a slow motion affair with obscure significance for the presidential race. And lo and behold, lots of people will be paying attention to the GOP presidential primary in Puerto Rico on Sunday. As front-runners Romney and Santorum criss-cross the tropical territory, it behooves us to know something about the contest.
Religiously, Puerto Rico is Catholic, right? Not exactly. According to the 2001 World Values Survey, only about two-thirds of Puerto Ricans are Catholics. My colleague Juhem Navarro, a political scientist and Puerto Rican native, estimates that currently as many as 40 percent may be evangelicals. What these numbers portend for the primary is hard to figure. There are evangelical megachurches around San Juan that might be susceptible to Santorum, and likewise a very conservative Catholic belt in the western part of the island. But overall, Romney the Mormon has done better with Catholics than Santorum the Catholic in every primary contest so far. In a word, the religious politics are hard to figure. Anyway, here's Juhem's Puerto Rico Political Primer for the Perplexed:
it is important to point out that Puerto Rico has the highest proportion of Hispanics of any U.S. political jurisdiction (99%) and that the candidates, especially Mitt Romney, will certainly attempt to use the opportunity to boost their Latino bona fides. It was, after all, during the last Latino-GOP lovefest in Florida when Romney, speaking before a primarily Puerto Rican audience, received the endorsement of Gov. Luis Fortuño. Gov. Fortuño, a member of the Republican National Committee, is considered a rising star in the party and has been touted by the likes of George Will and John Fund as the Next Great Hispanic GOP hope (after Marco Rubio).
But to understand what may happen Sunday it is necessary to recognize that while Fortuño is affiliated with the GOP, he actually won the governorship as a candidate for the New Progressive Party, which supports Puerto Rican statehood. The main opposition party, the Popular Democratic Party (which was dominant from the 1940s to the 1970s), supports the current Commonwealth [colonial] status. This means that, apart from such occasional national contests (the Democrats held a primary in Puerto Rico in 2008), most Puerto Ricans do not engage with the American party system. It also means that extrapolating the Puerto Rico primary results to the larger U.S. Latino community doesn’t make much sense.
I expect Romney to win, given his name recognition and high-profile endorsement. Though Fortuño is quite unpopular these days with the entire electorate, he remains popular in his own party; and NPP voters make up the vast majority of GOP voters in Puerto Rico. The question is whether Romney will win a majority of the votes and the totality of the 20 delegates that are up for grabs, or if Santorum and Gingrich (whose daughter is now campaigning for him on the island) will spoil Mitt's party and split the delegates proportionally. Santorum has the support of a couple of socially conservative local pols, and there’s enough of a social conservative streak in Puerto Rico to allow him to sneak off with a significant proportion of the vote. Whether anyone's message will resonate with an electorate in which 43 percent claim to speak English “not at all” is also a question--though given Santorum's misinformed statement yesterday about establishing English as the official language of the place, perhaps it's just as well for him not be understood.
If anything, it will be a nice weekend in the sun and for the candidates, with plenty of opportunity for photo-ops with brown people. I just hope that exit polls are conducted and that the pollsters remember to ask a religion question or two. Because in all likelihood, religious identity is going to matter.