SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's trip to this Caribbean island on Tuesday wasn't just about catching up with old friends — he's also hoping they tell friends and family living in Florida that he stopped by.
Puerto Rico plays a minor role in Republican presidential politics, but Florida remains a big, must-win prize that Democrats and Republicans will target intently next year. The Sunshine State is home to a fast-growing population of swing voters recently transplanted from Puerto Rico, so winning them could be critical to securing the state's 29 electoral votes.
Bush knows this better than most Republicans thinking about running for president. He won a majority of Puerto Rican voters living in Central Florida during his two campaigns for governor. Now he wants their help as he runs for president.
During a roughly six-hour tour that began Tuesday, he told old political war stories, raised money for his Super PAC and found subtle ways to remind people of his close ties to nearby Florida. During a morning appearance at San Juan's Metropolitan University, he delivered his usual remarks about striving for 4 percent economic growth and lifting people out of poverty — but he did so in English and Spanish and with a few regional flourishes.
He wore a red tie with yellow flamingos and green palm trees. He reiterated his support for Puerto Rican statehood and said that the next president should help make Puerto Rico a state if residents vote to do so. He reminded the crowd that he knows "the power of the immigrant experience," because "I married a beautiful girl from Mexico. My children are bicultural and bilingual."