Sen. Bill Nelson was in Tampa on Monday to announce an endorsement from former Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Rossello.
The move is another example of the importance that both Nelson and his Republican rival for the Senate, Gov. Rick Scott, place on the potential voters who relocated to Florida after Hurricane Maria.
Nelson was joined by Rossello, Rep. Kathy Castor, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and other politicians at Nilsa’s Puerto Rican Bistro off Waters Avenue.
Both Nelson and Rossello were critical of the Trump administration for its response to the storm and the slow recovery that followed. A recent study says the death toll from Maria could be as high as 4,600 people because of delayed medical care to the island.
“Here we are more than nine months after and all people do not have electricity restored, there’s a question of potable water in places and FEMA says they are pulling out,” Nelson said.
Nelson said he supports statehood for Puerto Rico and believes the hurricane response would have been stronger if the territory was a state.
“Do you think the people of Texas or Florida after a hurricane would be patient enough to wait for 9 months and still not have electricity?” Nelson said. “Look at the extent that they have been treated as second-class citizens.”
Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans have moved to Florida since Maria and politicians believe their votes could make a difference in close races.
Puerto Ricans traditionally have had high voter turnout in elections on the island. But Rossello said that enthusiasm hasn't always carried over when transplants move to the mainland.
“The disconnect is that you come to a new environment, you have to set your roots for a little while and to understand a little more the political environment and the political players,” Rossello said. “It’s a question of getting in tune with a new environment.”