Puerto Rico Primary: Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum Offend, While Attempting to Win Voters

As the GOP primary in Puerto Rico approaches, frontrunner Mitt Romney criticized U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor for her lack of support of making English the official language of Puerto Rico and requiring that all citizens be proficient in it. The GOP candidates have chosen a harsh line as they attempt to appeal to Hispanic voters for tomorrow’s primary. 

Romney stated, “In looking at Justice Sotomayor, my view was her philosophy is quite different than my own and that's the reason why I would not support her as a justice for the Supreme Court. I would be happy to have a justice of Puerto Rican descent or a Puerto Rican individual on the Supreme Court, but they would have to share my philosophy, that comes first."

This may come as a deterrent to Romney, as Sotomayor is the first Supreme Court Justice of Puerto Rican decent in the U.S. This puts him at an uncomfortable position with voters and at odds with Gov. Luis Fortuno, the Puerto Rican governor who has sided with him on policy.

But, though Romney’s comments may detract from his support on primary day, his opponent Rick Santorum received a fair share of his own criticism for proposing that Puerto Rico would adopt English as its official language in order to gain statehood, which has been a major political issue in the region.  Santorum told a local Puerto Rican newspaper, "I have no doubt that one of the requirements that will be put forth to Congress is a requirement that English would be universal here on the island. That doesn't mean that people can't speak Spanish in their homes, or in their business, or on the street, but that everyone would have a proficiency in English."

Romney made clear that he holds the same view at the presidential debate in January. But he appeared to backtrack on that position yesterday, when he told reporters: “English has been an official language of Puerto Rico for 100 years. Selecting the words of your governor, Spanish is the language of Puerto Rico's heritage; English is the language of opportunity. I would hope that young people would learn both languages, but particularly English."

Romney’s effort to realign his words and regain Puerto Ricans’ allegiance on this issue may pay off.  Former New Hampshire Governor John H. Sununu believes that Santorum’s language has ruined his campaign in Puerto Rico:  “Santorum embarrassed himself so badly in Puerto Rico that it's quite easy for Gov. Romney to be in Illinois these days."

Romney originally planned to spend three days in Puerto Rico, but he has cut his stay to 24 hours so that he may return to Illinois, which will host the GOP primary on Tuesday.

There are 20 delegates up for grabs in Sunday’s primary.

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