Puerto Ricans Head to Polls Sunday

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Puerto Rico: full of festive times, sandy beaches and full of passionate voters.

"Politics is our national sport," Roberto Prats, Puerto Rico Democratic Party chairman said.

Puerto Ricans get their chance this Sunday, after months of campaigning by the Obama and Clinton teams. TV and radio ads blanket the airwaves too.

There are about 2.5 million registered voters in Puerto Rico. Normally, 80 percent of them vote. While it may be less than that this weekend, still, close to one million people could show up to choose between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. That's about the same number that turned out in states like Missouri and New Jersey.

To give you an idea of the passion here, New Jersey's population is more than eight million. Puerto Rico is half that, 4 million and yet the voting totals will probably be about the same.

"Yes we will go and vote," Sen. Carmelo Rios said. "You will feel the presence of the Puerto Ricans voting massively."

There's quite a history here. The U.S. took possession of Puerto Rico in 1898 during the Spanish American War. In 1917, people could become U.S. citizens and 30 years later it became a commonwealth. Since then, the fight in Puerto Rico is all about statehood. Clinton and Obama both believe it should be left up to voters on the island.

"We do have a political status controversy on the Island," Prats said.

In Puerto Rico the primary between Obama and Clinton and really all of the elections down here are seen through the status issue. You either belong to the pro-statehood or the pro-commonwealth party. It's not so much about Republicans and Democrats  - and that makes for some very strange political alliances.

For example, Puerto Rico's Senate president Kenneth McClintock leans left, is pro-statehood and supports Clinton. Yet he's working with his pro-commonwealth rival, Prats who is also trying to get Clinton elected.

The newfound attention Puerto Rico is receiving is enthusiastically welcomed, a chance for Puerto Ricans to shout to the world about what's important to them. It's not just the status issue.

"The economy. That's it. The economy," Angel Perez of the House of Representatives said.

"If we have a recession on the economy of the U.S., our economy is no different," Rios said.

And health care matters according to the Mayor of Catño.

"The area of health is something very, very essential for the Puerto Rican, given that with good health one can produce a better economy," Wilson Soto said.

"Everything that comes out - the President, the Congress that is chosen  - all of it has an impact in Puerto Rico in every single way," one Puerto Rican voter said.

Because Puerto Rico is not a state, most residents don't pay federal income tax but as U.S. citizens they are taxed for social security and Medicare. Yet, Puerto Ricans don't get full Medicare benefits. This is something Clinton has pledged to fix.

"She's promising to lift the cap on Medicare, so that we would have equal treatment since we are equally taxed," Senate President Kenneth McClintock said.

The Clinton campaign is hoping for a big turnout to help her popular vote totals. Polls show her with a solid lead. After all, people here feel like they know her.

"Hillary was Bill Clinton's wife and he was one of the best President's the United States had," Tony Lopez said.

She also came here during Hurricane Georges and her supporters say she has a command of the issues here. She also represents one million Puerto Ricans as a senator from New York. And just like in the U.S.,  the Women for Hillary groups are here too and they are just as determined as her not to give up.

"Quit and go home? No she's not going home," Illeana Irvine of Mujeres for Hillary said. "She's doing what a woman should do."

As for the Obama campaign, the challenge is to educate people about him, but the "change" word Obama is so famous for is starting to resonate.

"Obama now will change everything. That's it," another Puerto Rican voter said.

Meanwhile, the campaign has been able to recruit some mayors on the island to organize for him.

"There is a lot of enthusiasm. We are going crazy waiting for the primary to come for us to then decide and look for a way to support Barack Obama," Mayor Lemuel Soto of Arecibo said.

One strength of Obama's campaign is planning ahead and networking in small and large states. Puerto Rico is no different.

And so here we are, the end of May and Puerto Rico is set to vote. Just this week both Clinton and Obama say this whole primary process has been quite an undertaking.

It's been a lot of work, but with the eyes of the political world focused on this beautiful island, it's music to the ears of Puerto Ricans.

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CBN News
David Brody

David Brody

CBN News Sr. National Correspondent

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