Ron DeSantis visits Puerto Rico in waning days of GOP primary for Florida governor

The Republican meets with local dignitaries and residents about Hurricane Maria.
Published Aug. 17, 2018|Updated Aug. 17, 2018

Rep. Ron DeSantis is in Puerto Rico on Friday, his first trip to the island as a candidate for governor.

DeSantis is scheduled to hold a town hall with Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez, Puerto Rico's representative in Congress, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and local Rep. Eddie Charbonier.

Later, he'll be briefed on the federal response to Hurricane Maria and on-going recovery efforts. He'll also visit a neighborhood hit by last year's storm, the campaign said.

Details of the trip were first reported by Politico and confirmed by DeSantis spokesman Dave Vasquez.

DeSantis is there to learn "what he can do as governor to work together (with Puerto Rico officials) and build that relationship," Vasquez said.

Meanwhile, DeSantis' Aug. 28 primary opponent, Adam Putnam, spent Friday in Winter Park, having breakfast with supporters.

Putnam spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice criticized the out-of-state visit as "standard operating procedure for the Congressman not to be in the state he's running to be governor of."

"There are less than two weeks left until the primary, Florida voters deserve a governor who is present to win," Beatrice said.

The visit is the latest example of Florida's political parties have put an emphasis on winning the state's growing Puerto Rican population in what promises to be a close election. Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and his Republican challenger, Gov. Rick Scott, have each visited the island and boast endorsements from Puerto Rico politicians.

According to one poll, more Puerto Ricans in Florida hold a favorable view of Scott than not.

DeSantis' courtship of island voters and Puerto Rican-Americans is complicated by his close relationship with President Donald Trump, whose response to Maria has drawn mixed reviews. Footage of Trump tossing paper towels to island residents like basketballs after the storm enraged some Puerto Rican leaders.

More than seven in 10 Puerto Rican Floridians hold a negative view of Trump.

Democrats have hoped that might drive temporary Florida residents, pushed out by Maria, to register and vote for Democratic candidates. So far there is little evidence of it.

On Friday, Democrats pounced on DeSantis' visit to the U.S. territory as disingenuous.

"During Puerto Rico's darkest hour, and in the eleven months since the hurricane, Ron DeSantis has turned his back on the island in order to help cover up Donald Trump's horrific neglect," said Rep. Amy Mercado, D-Orlando, in a statement. "And just last week, DeSantis said he would do nothing as governor to help the thousands of Puerto Ricans in Florida who are on the verge of losing their housing because it is a 'federal responsibility.' "

Mercado was referencing a WESH interview in which DeSantis was asked if the state should provide shelter for displaced Puerto Rican residents.

DeSantis said he would look to the federal government to help those people.

"Part of the reason why I think it's important to have a good relationship with the president is because Florida interacts with the federal government on a lot of things," DeSantis said.