Susan MacManus, a government professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa and an expert on Florida politics, said the impact of Puerto Ricans in the state has been “massive.” They now rival Cuban Americans in both numbers and political clout and have changed the politics of the state. Their influence is heightened by the fact that most of the Puerto Ricans in the state are clustered in the Tampa and Orlando areas. “This makes up the I-4 corridor,” said MacManus. “And it is imperative that anyone who goes campaigning in Florida -- you can’t just go to South Florida and visit the Cubans. You’ve got to come to Central Florida and visit the Puerto Ricans.”
And, she said, they will be watching Obama’s trip to their homeland with great interest and a mix of pride and skepticism. “Because so much attention is paid to Mexican Americans and the Southwest, other Hispanic groups feel almost neglected,” she said. “So this visit is very important, not just to Puerto Ricans but to other non-Mexican-American Hispanics.”
Additionally, MacManus said, to Hispanics, “the personal touch is very important.” Latinos “are very tight-knit, family-oriented, social people who really like attention, and I think it matters a lot to them that he is going.”
On the eve of the trip, the White House was being vague about how much contact the president will have with Puerto Ricans during a brief stay that will also include a political fundraiser. “We’re hoping that he’ll have opportunities to connect with people during his stop at the airport,” said Perrelli, predicting a “significant crowd” there.
It's been decades since other presidents visited Puerto Rico. Lyndon Johnson briefly stopped at an airbase on the island in 1968, and Gerald Ford brought the 1976 allied economic summit there. But neither was an official presidential visit whose main purpose was visiting Puerto Rico. That has not happened since a visit by John F. Kennedy on December 15 and 16, 1961. Kennedy made an overnight stay in the historic La Fortaleza executive mansion, which Obama will visit.
The day after Obama returns to Washington, the White House will convene an economic development summit on the island to discuss the economic aspects of the task force report. At the top of the agenda will be the sorry jobs outlook in Puerto Rico since Obama took office.
When he was elected in November 2008, unemployment on the island was at 12.7 percent. It was 13.1 percent when he was inaugurated. A year later, in January 2010, it was up to 15.9 percent, and it was at the same figure in January 2011. But in just three months, it jumped to the current rate of 16.4 percent recorded in April. “The economic crisis on the island is very real and worse than it is in the United States,” said Falcon.