Midterms: Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria may prove pivotal in Florida elections

WASHINGTON – In the year since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, political parties, candidates and voting rights groups have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to court residents who fled to the mainland, hoping to register them and get them to the polls.

Though some displaced Puerto Ricans relocated to Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New York, most settled in Florida, where get-out-the-vote efforts have been intense.

Advocates and national political groups say the tens of thousands of islanders who have settled in Florida are a potentially vital voting bloc in a swingstate that’s crucial in the midterms and known for razor-thin margins.

“The truth is that Florida elections are so tight that any group could have an impact,” said Dario Moreno, a political scientist at Florida International University. “The question for many of the displaced Puerto Ricans is whether they have organized themselves politically … registered and are ready to vote in November because they’re new residents, they’re trying to put together their lives and all those concerns.

“It’s very hard to tell at this point … what impact (they) will have,” he said.

Some groups aren’t taking the chance. Much is at stake in Florida, where there’s a hotly contested Senate race and a closely watched gubernatorial contest.

National Democrats and Republicans hired community organizers and hosted workshops to help evacuees assimilate in their new communities. Republicans created a Puerto Rican Initiative to court them.

Advocate groups also hope to tap the pool of potential new voters.

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