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The Republican front-runner scores big, with plenty of help from chief rival Santorum.
BOSTON, Massachusetts – Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney decimated the competition in the Puerto Rico primary Sunday, gaining 83 percent of the vote. His closest challenger, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, received a mere 8 percent, while former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who did not campaign on the island, barely registered in the polls.
Sunday night’s big win will give Romney some welcome momentum going into the contests in Illinois and Louisiana this week. It will also boost his delegate count: he will take all of Puerto Rico’s 20 delegates, the prize for gaining over 50 percent of the vote. This now gives Romney a total of 521 delegates, still far from the 1,144 needed to clinch the nomination, but distant from Santorum’s 253.
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Romney’s camp is pointing to the win as a sign that the candidate can connect with Latino voters, an important factor going into the general election in the fall. Of course, Puerto Rico itself cannot help Romney in November; while Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States, the territory does not have statehood status and will not be voting in the presidential election.
It did not hurt that Santorum shot himself in the foot, figuratively speaking, while campaigning in Puerto Rico. Statehood is an important issue for many voters there, and Santorum was asked to give an accounting of his position on the subject.
"I would support the people of Puerto Rico if they make the decisive decision to move forward with that, I would support it," said Santorum, speaking at a town hall meeting in San Juan.
Puerto Rico is divided on the matter, with about half the population saying they were not in favor of becoming a state. This is not quite the “decisive decision” Santorum is calling for.
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But the real problem came a bit later, when Santorum was giving an interview with a local newspaper.
"Like any other state, there has to be compliance with this and any other federal law," he said, as reported by Reuters news agency. "There are other states with more than one language, such as Hawaii, but to be a state of the United States, English has to be the principal language," he added.
The comment caused a stir in Puerto Rico, which is sensitive to the issue of cultural imperialism.
It also provoked some derisive comments at home: There is no federal law requiring English to be adopted as the principal language in any state, nor is it necessary for a territory seeking statehood to become primarily English-speaking.
Santorum has had a difficult few weeks. In addition to his imagined federal law on English as the principal language, he recently produced some shocking statistics on euthanasia in the Netherlands, claiming that 10 percent of all deaths in Holland were due to forced termination of the old and sick. He also stated that the Dutch wear bracelets saying “Don’t euthanize me.”
The figures were fantastic — in the true sense of the word. According to the Washington Post, “there appears to be not a shred of evidence to back up Santorum’s claims about euthanasia in the Netherlands," and awarded him the “four Pinocchios” status for his comments.
Santorum has also declared war on pornography, pre-natal testing, and teleprompters — this last, he said, because it prevented voters from knowing what a candidate is truly thinking.
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"It's important for you to understand who that person is in their own words, see them, look them in the eye ... hear what's [in their] heart," he said, according to CNN.
All of this contributes to making Romney look like the choice of Republican moderates, something that might have hurt him in the primaries, but could stand him in good stead in the general election, should he become the nominee.
As many political experts have pointed out, primaries cater to the extreme wings of both parties; the GOP has already been pushed so far to the right that even archconservative Pat Robertson has lamented that the party’s position is untenable.
But as November draws near, cooler, more judicious heads will likely prevail.
Romney is in pretty good shape at the present moment. He needs to win less than half of the remaining delegates to go into the Republican National Convention as the anointed nominee. Rick Santorum would have to pull off the almost impossible feat of gaining two-thirds of the delegates still up for grabs in order to have a chance in Tampa in August.
But the race, which Senator John McCain has called “the nastiest I have ever seen,” is far from over.