Democrats Adopt Boisterous Puerto Rican Style

(AP Photo/Ricardo Figueroa) :: Chelsea Clinton visits the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, May 14, 2008. To the left of Clinton Roberto Pratts, a local Democratic Party leader in PuertoRico. Clinton is campaigning in PuertoRico for her mother, Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., ahead of the June 1 primary.

Updated: 5/22/2008

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico

Forget placards, stoic bodyguards and formal rallies. To win Puerto Rico's presidential primary, both the Clinton and Obama camps are campaigning in the boisterous, face-to-face ''boricua style'' favored on this Caribbean island.

The June 1 vote will allocate 55 delegates and might finally give Illinois Sen. Barack Obama the number he needs to claim the Democratic nomination if he picks up enough superdelegates in the meantime. But rival Hillary Rodham Clinton is favored to win here, partly because she's done better among Hispanics in previous primaries and partly because the New York senator already represents a lot of Puerto Ricans, many with relatives on the island.

Among Puerto Rico's seven superdelegates, not bound by the primary, Clinton has a 4-2 edge over Obama, with one uncommitted.

''There's a cultural clash in how campaigning is done'' in Puerto Rico versus the mainland, said Roberto Prats, the island's Democratic Party chairman and a Clinton campaign spokesman. ''We suggested they build a campaign 'boricua style.'''

''Boricua,'' derived from the Taino Indian word for the island's people, is the term Puerto Ricans use to refer to themselves.

Large, billowing flags are replacing modest placards, staffers for both candidates have summoned their rusty Spanish, and Bill Clinton's bodyguards were asked to relax during his visit to a sprawling public housing complex.

Obama himself visited briefly last November for a private fundraiser and a meeting with Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila, who later endorsed him. Clinton's last visit was after Hurricane Georges in 1998. But the Obama campaign says he will return before the primary, and a local party official says Clinton also will campaign on the island before the vote.

So far, both campaigns have relied mainly on high-profile surrogates. The former first lady has been represented by her husband, the former president, and daughter, Chelsea. Obama has sent his wife, Michelle, and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

These surrogate appearances have been steeped in boricua style.

Clinton's campaign hired a Puerto Rican ''reggaetonero'' to draw crowds with jingles infused with the heavy BOOM-da-BOOM-BOOM bass rhythm of the popular hybrid Latin rap music.

During her second visit to Puerto Rico, Chelsea Clinton was accompanied by a ''batucada,'' or percussion ensemble, of a dozen young musicians armed with drums, maracas and whistles as she greeted shoppers at a San Juan mall.

It is a warmer, more intimate way to campaign, said Clinton spokesman Angel Urena.

Apparently, it works.

Michael Ayala, the 19-year-old batucada leader, said all 50 musicians he oversees are pledging to vote for Clinton and recruit at least two friends each to do likewise.

Not to be outdone, Obama flew his Spanish-speaking staff to the U.S. Caribbean territory, where they met recently with university students. And Michelle Obama offered some Spanish — ''Se puede!'' (We can!) — during her visit.

Obama supporters also are organizing ''marquesina,'' or garage meetings, a decades-old tradition in which politicians meet community leaders for informal Q&A sessions. And they're considering launching ''caravana'' voter drives, which involve raucous caravans of hundreds of cars that meander through the streets with megaphones and pulsating speakers.

''It's the grand finale,'' said Obama's local co-chairman, Pedro Pierluisi. ''That's something very folkloric of Puerto Rico.''

Obama, who has far more money than Clinton, launched his television ads last Saturday. They use a Spanish voiceover and show Obama speaking English with Spanish subtitles. The ad says Obama grew up on an island and in a family with few resources so he understands the concerns of Puerto Rican families. With the Iraq war distinctly unpopular in Puerto Rico, Obama closes by saying he will end the war and bring the troops home.

Clinton has run radio ads and began running TV ads on Wednesday. The ad shows Clinton meeting with voters while a woman says in Spanish that Clinton will create more jobs and economic incentives to boost the local economy. The narrator urges viewers to vote for Clinton if they want the island's voice to be heard.

The island switched from a caucus to a primary after Super Tuesday's inconclusive outcome prolonged the Democratic contest. The hope was that a full-scale vote would prompt candidates to make commitments on local issues.

Smart move: Puerto Rico hasn't received this much attention since the 1980 face-off between Ted Kennedy and Jimmy Carter.

Clinton wrote a column reminding Puerto Ricans how she helped after Hurricane Georges. Obama countered with a column saying he understands island challenges because he lived in Hawaii. Both pledged to improve the island's economy and public education.

And on the island's foremost issue, both say only Puerto Ricans can decide whether to maintain their commonwealth status, become a U.S. state or opt for independence. Clinton has promised to resolve the issue in her first term. Michelle Obama countered that her husband will devote more resources to resolving the question.

But to many islanders, style is as important as these issues.

In a culture that likes to rub shoulders and shake hands with its politicians, Angel Sanchez was undecided until Bill Clinton appeared standoffish during his visit last month. ''He barely allowed himself to be seen,'' Sanchez said.

Sanchez, the father of two mentally disabled boys, said Obama earned his vote when his staffers sought his ideas for improving education.

Others said Chelsea Clinton's humility and interest in island culture won them over.

''It's been great being able to show the Americans and Clinton staffers that here the campaigning is different,'' said batucada leader Ayala. ''There can be joy, fun and dancing.''

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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