As Florida race tight­ens, Bi­den pro­poses Puerto Rico re­cov­ery plan

■ Joe Bi­den’s Puerto Rico plan — re­leased as he vis­its Florida — would re­verse aus­ter­ity mea­sures un­der PROMESA and re­spect state­hood if a ref­er­en­dum passes.

Miami Herald - - Front Page - BY DAVID SMI­LEY, BIANCA PADRÓ OCA­SIO AND ALEX DAUGH­ERTY dsmi­ley@mi­ami­her­ald.com bpadro@mi­ami­her­ald.com adaugh­erty@mc­clatchydc.com

Dur­ing his first visit to Florida as the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, Joe Bi­den on Tues­day looked to bol­ster his lack­lus­ter sup­port among the state’s His­panic vot­ers by mak­ing a di­rect ap­peal to Cen­tral Florida’s grow­ing Puerto Ri­can com­mu­nity.

The for­mer vice pres­i­dent — who one day ear­lier ac­knowl­edged he needed to “work like the devil” to win over more Florida Lati­nos — vis­ited with a grow­ing Boricua com­mu­nity in Kis­sim­mee. On the first day of His­panic Her­itage month, Bi­den sur­rounded him­self with Puerto Ri­can politi­cians and His­panic celebri­ties, and de­tailed plans to help the is­land of Puerto Rico re­cover from vo­lu­mi­nous debt and a string of dev­as­tat­ing nat­u­ral dis­as­ters.

“There’s no sep­a­rat­ing out His­panic her­itage from Amer­i­can her­itage,” Bi­den said, start­ing off his speech by play­ing a clip from the song “Des­pac­ito” after an in­tro­duc­tion by Puerto Ri­can singer Luis Fonsi. “These stories are one and the same and grow­ing more vi­brantly in­ter­twined ev­ery sin­gle day.”

With just seven weeks to go un­til the Nov. 3 elec­tion, Bi­den’s chore­ographed visit to Kis­sim­mee re­flected the im­por­tance of Lati­nos to his hopes of win­ning Florida and the pres­i­dency.

Polls have shown a tight­en­ing race in the state — a must-win for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump — and sug­gest that Bi­den is strug­gling to win over Latino vot­ers. An Equis Re­search sur­vey of more than 1,000 Lati­nos in Florida com­pleted Aug. 25 found Bi­den up 53% to Trump’s 37% in the state. That’s well ahead of Trump but be­hind Hil­lary Clinton’s 2016 sup­port. Among Puerto Ri­cans, who make up about one-third of Florida’s 2.4 mil­lion His­panic vot­ers, the Equis Re­search poll found Bi­den up 62% to 28% over Trump.

“There are now 49 days un­til Elec­tion Day. I’m ask­ing for your vote. I’m go­ing to work very hard to get it,” Bi­den said.

Bi­den’s Florida day trip — his first in ex­actly one year — also re­flected the im­por­tance of the Tampa and Orlando me­dia mar­kets, where he and Trump are spend­ing more than $50 mil­lion on po­lit­i­cal ads. He be­gan his af­ter­noon meet­ing with vet­er­ans at Tampa’s Hills­bor­ough Com­mu­nity Col­lege before trav­el­ing to Osce­ola Her­itage Park, south of Orlando. Be­tween his vis­its, sev­eral cam­paign sur­ro­gates, in­clud­ing pop singer Ricky Martin, vis­ited Orlando’s Pulse night­club, the site of a mass shoot­ing in 2016.

Ac­tress Eva Lon­go­ria, and fel­low celebri­ties Fonsi and Martin, re­peat­edly en­cour­aged His­pan­ics on Tues­day to reg­is­ter to vote and “be the de­ci­sive group that votes Trump out of of­fice.”

“More than any other time, the His­panic com­mu­nity, the Latino com­mu­nity holds in the palm of their hand the des­tiny of this coun­try,” Bi­den said in his speech.

Chuck Rocha, a po­lit­i­cal strate­gist who helped Ver­mont Sen. Bernie San­ders win over Lati­nos dur­ing the Demo­cratic pri­mary race, said Bi­den’s visit to Kis­sim­mee was en­cour­ag­ing. “He should just camp out and move there,” he said.

Rocha has been among the strate­gists warn­ing in re­cent months that Bi­den’s cam­paign was do­ing too lit­tle to win over Florida Lati­nos. But he told the Mi­ami Her­ald Tues­day that the Bi­den cam­paign has come around, and he now be­lieves it will spend more money mes­sag­ing to His­panic vot­ers this year than Pres­i­dent Barack Obama did in 2012 or Hil­lary Clinton in 2016.

Rocha said he wor­ries that out­side groups aren’t spend­ing enough to turn out Latino vot­ers for Bi­den at a time when the coro­n­avirus pan­demic has dis­rupted in-per­son cam­paign­ing, but there are re­in­force­ments on the way. On Sun­day, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg promised to spend $100 mil­lion to sup­port Bi­den in Florida, with an em­pha­sis on Lati­nos.

“This is just not a nor­mal elec­tion cy­cle in COVID, so you need a lot more out­side sup­port to lift up your mes­sage in these com­mu­ni­ties,” Rocha said.

Ahead of Bi­den’s ar­rival in Florida, his po­lit­i­cal ad­vis­ers also re­leased a long-awaited plan to help Puerto Ri­can lead­ers pull their is­land out of eco­nomic tur­moil and re­build pub­lic utilities and as­sets dam­aged by years of ne­glect and re­peated nat­u­ral dis­as­ters.

Bi­den stopped short of en­dors­ing Puerto Ri­can state­hood Tues­day, choos­ing to re­state a plan to work with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the dif­fer­ent po­si­tions on the is­land’s po­lit­i­cal sta­tus to “en­gage in a fair and bind­ing process to de­ter­mine their own sta­tus.” But he said he “per­son­ally be­lieves state­hood” is the best po­lit­i­cal sta­tus for Puerto Ri­cans, though “the peo­ple of Puerto Rico must de­cide.”

He also promised to cut red tape bog­ging down fed­eral as­sis­tance, pledged to ex­pand health­care on the is­land, and swore to end poli­cies of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and even some cre­ated un­der for­mer Pres­i­dent Obama, un­der whom Bi­den served as vice pres­i­dent.

“To­day’s a his­tor­i­cal day for Puerto Rico and the Puerto Ri­can com­mu­nity,” Javier Cue­bas, coali­tions di­rec­tor for Bi­den’s Florida cam­paign, told re­porters Tues­day on a con­fer­ence call. “No pres­i­dent or pres­i­den­tial can­di­date has ever pro­vided a plan as com­pre­hen­sive as the one we have in front of us.”

Mercedes Sch­lapp, a se­nior ad­viser to the

Trump cam­paign, dis­missed Bi­den’s Puerto Rico plan say­ing it “does noth­ing to ad­dress the cor­rup­tion cur­rently stran­gling the is­land.” Puerto Rico has been racked by a se­ries of scan­dals and ar­rests in re­cent years of se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials.

She touted the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­cent ef­forts to re­vi­tal­ize the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try in Puerto Rico through their White House rep­re­sen­ta­tive to Puerto Rico, Rear Adm. Peter Brown. Brown has re­cently made trips to the is­land, pitch­ing Puerto Rico as a do­mes­tic al­ter­na­tive to China for the pro­duc­tion of med­i­cal de­vices.

“The only rea­son why Bi­den is now pre­tend­ing to care about Boricuas is be­cause he needs their votes and polls show him strug­gling with His­pan­ics across the na­tion,” Sch­lapp said.

But as he waited for Bi­den to ar­rive in Kis­sim­mee, Federico De Jesús, who served as na­tional di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for His­panic me­dia for the Obama cam­paign in 2008, said Bi­den’s plan was “a great start.”

Though many Puerto Ri­cans have pushed Bi­den to back state­hood for the is­land, De Jesús said he was pleased that Bi­den main­tained his stance on Puerto Rico’s po­lit­i­cal sta­tus and did not back one spe­cific op­tion.

“That’s a good sig­nal,” said De Jesús, now a se­nior ad­viser to the ad­vo­cacy coalition Power 4 Puerto Rico. “We’re pleased that Bi­den stuck to the in­clu­sive and bind­ing ap­proach” that he had pre­vi­ously sup­ported.

Bi­den’s cam­paign hasn’t only been fo­cused on His­panic vot­ers in Florida.

Last week, his run­ning mate, Cal­i­for­nia Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris, paid a visit to a Venezue­lan restau­rant in Do­ral, but also met with Black lead­ers in Mi­ami Gar­dens, and her hus­band sat down with rab­bis in Aven­tura.

Back in Tampa, Bi­den sought to cap­i­tal­ize on a story by The At­lantic and other out­lets say­ing that Trump pri­vately trashed mem­bers of the mil­i­tary. There are more than 1.5 mil­lion vet­er­ans in Florida and in Hills­bor­ough County, they will sur­pass

94,000 this month, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est pop­u­la­tion mod­els from the U.S. De­part­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs.

And Tampa is home to MacDill Air Force Base, a unique in­stal­la­tion with mem­bers from all branches of ser­vice, that hosts two ma­jor mil­i­tary head­quar­ters: U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand, which over­sees U.S. mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions in a 20-na­tion re­gion from Egypt east to Kaza­khstan, and U.S. Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Com­mand, which trains and equips units such as the Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, Ma­rine Raiders and more.

Bi­den said Trump den­i­grates ser­vice mem­bers, and ref­er­enc­ing his son, Beau, who served in Iraq, men­tioned what he said was the most of­fen­sive part of Trump’s words.

“He calls them ‘suck­ers’ and ‘losers,’” Bi­den said, cit­ing the At­lantic story that quoted anony­mous sources say­ing Trump de­rided de­ceased and cap­tured sol­diers. “[Beau] is gone now. But he was no sucker.”

PA­TRICK SEMANSKY AP

Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den speaks with re­porters before board­ing a plane at Tampa In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Tampa on Tues­day.

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