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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Aiming for Fla's 29 electoral votes, Obama heads to Puerto Rico



SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — President Barack Obama will break a 50-year record Tuesday when he becomes the first president since John F. Kennedy to come to San Juan and actually meet with Puerto Ricans.

But experts say the whirlwind visit to an island crippled by a soaring murder rate, mass exodus and 16.2 percent unemployment has less to do with the island's overwhelming problems and much more to do with Florida's Interstate 4 corridor. The state's Puerto Rican population shot up 75 percent in the past decade, and Obama is eager to curry favor with first-time voters who have largely settled in Central Florida, supporters and critics agree.

"If there's a political motivation to this visit, it's legitimate: There are 3.8 million Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico, and another 4 million in the United States," said Pedro Pierluisi, a Democrat who is the island's non-voting representative in Congress. "If it's political, I like it. I welcome it. I'm going to campaign for him in Florida and other states where there are Hispanic voters."

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[Last modified: Sunday, June 12, 2011 10:09pm]


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