Gov. Ricardo Rosselló of Puerto Rico endorsed Sen. Bill Nelson's bid for re-election Monday, giving the Democrat a boost in his highly competitive Senate race against Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
"This decision was a tough decision for myself," Rosselló said at a press conference in Orlando. "I had to evaluate through a process. I have to establish that Governor Scott has also been a friend. But I am here, in spite of that, because I believe in Bill Nelson. I am grateful for his long-standing relationship for the people of Puerto Rico."
Nelson, who's facing the toughest race of his long career in politics, also has the support of Rosselló's father, former Gov. Pedro Rosselló. Florida's Hispanic voters could yet play a pivotal role in determining who will be the state's next U.S. senator.
"Puerto Rico is not treated fairly," Nelson said, recounting how tax laws, banking regulations and funding formulas have long worked against the U.S. territory, whose residents are American citizens.
Acknowledging the significance of Rosselló's decision, Scott sought to preempt it with his own earlier declaration that he has endorsements from nearly 60 island officials, including a former governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, seven mayors, eight senators and 43 representatives — 59 in all.
The Orlando Sentinel reported the presence of nearly a dozen protesters at the Rosselló event who chanted "go back to Puerto Rico" and called him a "traitor." The Associated Press put the number of protesters at about 20 and described participants carrying signs that said "Do Nothing Nelson" and "Rosselló Ungrateful."
Rep. Bob Cortes, R-Altamonte Springs, told the Sentinel he tried to get Rosselló to reconsider his decision but received no response.
"I actually hoped that he would stay out of it," Cortes said.
After the press conference, the AP reported, Rosselló expressed gratitude for Scott's eight visits to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria and state aid to the island.
"In no way should one take this as a negative toward somebody," Rosselló told AP. "It is a positive toward somebody. This might fall on deaf ears but we need to steer away from, in every contest, to see who the villain is and who the superhero is."