7.20.2007

Puerto Ricans are Florida's swing voters

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - They are Florida's "other" Hispanic voters.

After Cuban-Americans, Puerto Ricans make up the state's largest Hispanic population and its most politically independent - key swingers in a swing state.

Both parties seek to claim them. Democrats point to Puerto Ricans' traditional alignment with their party and tout their potential to counter the Republican Cuban-American vote. Republicans boast of the more business-oriented Puerto Ricans who increasingly call central Florida home.

But both parties are loath to admit one uncomfortable fact: as U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans are the only Hispanic immigrants in Florida who can automatically register to vote, yet more often than not, they don't.

"We have been working for years to get people more involved, Democrats, Republicans, the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs office, and it has been disaster," said Kissimmee County Commissioner, Republican Carols Irizarry, one of Florida's few Puerto Rican elected officials.

In the last decade, Florida has passed New Jersey as the No. 2 state for mainland Puerto Ricans, behind New York. The number of Puerto Ricans in Florida was estimated at 645,000 in 2005, up 160 percent since 1990, with the majority settling in the center swath of the state from Tampa to Daytona.