Here’s two things you might not know: One, there’s a primary in Puerto Rico. Two, Marco Rubio won it. By a lot.
Yep, that’s right. Last night, Marco Rubio won Puerto Rico’s GOP primary in a landslide.
It’s Rubio’s first major victory and his second outright victory in the race so far. It earned him 23 delegates and put him marginally closer to potentially someday maybe posing some sort of actual threat to GOP powerhouse Donald Trump and hot-on-his-heels Ted Cruz.
Why such a huge win for Rubio in Puerto Rico?
Rubio is the only GOP candidate to visit Puerto Rico so far, as well as the only one to openly support statehood for the U.S. territory.
For Puerto Ricans, this is a significant position to take. The island is over $70 billion in debt and has defaulted on debt payments twice. As Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro García Padilla told CNN, “We’re out of cash.”
The tanking economy is causing a mass population exodus from the island to the mainland. Fewer Puerto Rican residents to pay taxes means more debt, and the whole crisis has been ominously referred to as a “death spiral.”
If Puerto Rico gains statehood, it will be able to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy with federal protection, meaning the island could restructure its debts, negotiate in court with bondholders, and cover about a third of its debt.
If not, Puerto Rico and its citizens will remain in the economic crisis indefinitely.
Primaries are the only chance citizens of Puerto Rico get to make their voices heard — they aren’t allowed to vote in the general election.
While Republicans in Puerto Rico voted clearly in favor of Rubio, assigning their delegates last night (as they will for the Democrats in June), this is really the only chance Puerto Rican citizens have to let politicians running for president know what’s important to them.
Why would Rubio care about Puerto Rico if it can’t help him win the general election?
Well, Florida has a population of over 1 million Puerto Ricans. Courting Puerto Rico helps Rubio secure the swing state’s 99 delegates.
But frankly, Rubio doesn’t have to worry too much about Florida. It’s his home state, and pending another meltdown of epic proportions at the GOP debate on Wednesday, his win in Florida is all but clinched.
It’s pretty easy to make campaign promises to a population that doesn’t vote in the general election.
We never got to see whether either of their promises would come true, but Puerto Rico has consistently and overwhelmingly supported candidates who promise more representation, regardless of their political affiliation.
In this election cycle, candidates including Hillary Clinton have supported giving Puerto Rico bankruptcy protection, but only Rubio (and, formerly, Jeb! Bush) have campaigned in favor of full representation for Puerto Rico with a 51st star on the flag.
Will the next president be the one who finally recognizes Puerto Rico’s primary votes for what they truly mean?
Or will the territory remain a stepping stone for politicians to use on their journey to more “important” political contests? Will 2016 be the year that Puerto Rico is rescued by the U.S. government? Or will our collective memory once again forget about the territory and its citizens until another candidate needs delegates in the next election cycle?
Last night, Puerto Rico was granted five minutes in a room with a nation that has a thousand other things on its to-do list. Its citizens spoke clearly once again — whether they’re heard remains to be seen.