In the presidential campaign of 1844, statehood for Texas was a major campaign issue. Many Americans loved the idea that the United States was growing and becoming larger and more powerful. In 1856, the new Republican Party came down strongly against slavery and polygamy, bringing Utah’s statehood bid into the national campaign. In 1888, after the Washington Territory had introduced statehood bills repeatedly and Congress had repeatedly ignored them, statehood for Washington became an issue in the presidential campaign. Some candidates said the western territories were just too uncivilized to join the Union. The 2020 presidential campaign could push Puerto Rico statehood into national prominence, just as these 19th century campaigns did for those earlier territories.
Puerto Rico a “hot spot”
Politico has identified Puerto Rico as a “hot spot” in the coming presidential election. “Puerto Rico has vaulted into the presidential primary limelight like never before, both as a campaign stop and a campaign issue,” Marc Caputo wrote. “Puerto Rico is now something close to a must-stop for Democratic White House hopefuls.”
Democratic National Committee Member Manny Ortiz, also an advisor to Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello, told Politico that he’s working hard to make Puerto Rico statehood a “top-tier” issue in the upcoming presidential campaign.
It’s happened before. When statehood for territories aligns with an issue that’s on voters’ minds, it can catch voters’ imaginations across the country. Puerto Rico statehood brings up inequality and imperialism, both issues that should resonate with 21st century voters.
Puerto Rico’s Democratic primary is expected to take place in June of 2020, but state leaders are considering moving it up to March. Puerto Rico will send at least 44 delegates to the Democratic National Convention. Puerto Rico is also influential in the votes of Puerto Rican communities in states.
Democratic candidates Julian Castro and Elizabeth Warren have already visited Puerto Rico and more candidates are expected to do so as campaigning ramps up.
“So far, the announced Democratic presidential candidates who have weighed in on Puerto Rico have refused to say clearly where they stand on statehood,” Politico pointed out. “Instead, they say, the people’s will in Puerto Rico should guide Congress on whether to admit Puerto Rico as a state, a position that essentially ignores the fact that Puerto Rico has voted twice, in 2012 and in 2017, for statehood by wide margins.”
Governor Rossello has expressed frustration that candidates continue to dodge the issue. “That’s beautiful that you support self-determination,” he said recently, “but we have already self determined. It is time to take some action.”
In the same press event, Rossello said he wanted clear statements on statehood from candidates, with “no room for wiggle.”
Rossello also told CBS News “It’s not just a matter of having lip service and saying, ‘Yes, we want equality for the people of Puerto Rico,’ but what are you actually going to do about it?”
PR51st is tracking 2020 candidates on the subject of Puerto Rico’s status. So far, we see support for statehood from Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard, and John Delaney.