Massachusetts proves Puerto Ricans are the secret key to Dem victory in November
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“Victory has a hundred fathers, but defeat is an orphan.”

So goes the old adage about winning and losing in politics, as timely as it was when President John F. Kennedy made it popular in the 1960s as it was last Tuesday, when his kin lost a grueling race for the Democratic Party nomination to the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts.

The younger Kennedy's stance on PROMESA, the law that imposed a fiscal control board on Puerto Rico after years of financial crisis, may have had a big part to play in that loss. It was a hotly debated topic in what was a winding, at times very tight race — one where usually forgotten Puerto Rican voters were seen as potentially swinging the election one way or the other. And that, in itself, is a lesson for the presidential race and other contests in November.


Most of the pundit class has so far pegged the statewide horse race between Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden eyes new leadership at troubled public lands agency | House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally | Trump administration pushes for rollback of Arctic offshore drilling regulations House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally MORE and challenger Joe KennedyJoseph (Joe) Patrick KennedyConor Lamb defeats Trump-backed challenger for reelection in Pennsylvania Van Drew fends off challenge from Kennedy after party switch Markey wins reelection in Massachusetts MORE III, as well as the undercard bout in the state’s 1st District between Rep. Richard NealRichard Edmund NealOvernight Health Care: Trump announces two moves aimed at lowering drug prices | Sturgis rally blamed for COVID-19 spread in Minnesota | Stanford faculty condemn Scott Atlas Trump announces two moves aimed at lowering drug prices IRS races to get remaining stimulus checks to low-income households MORE and challenger Alex Morse, as two more skirmishes in the intra-party struggle between Democratic progressive activists and establishment types. In that sense, they've called Tuesday night a tie: progressives rallied successfully to bring Markey roaring to the fore from double-digit deficits in early polling, while the centrists stood by Neal and won.

For Puerto Ricans, or boricuas as we like to call ourselves, BOTH races were a success.

We saw ourselves not just acknowledged and mentioned, but witnessed campaigns putting real effort into defining what policies those aspiring for federal office would put in place to help Puerto Rico.

It might be somewhat surprising this happened in Massachusetts, which doesn’t have the reputation of places like the Bronx, Orlando, or New Haven, Conn., as a hub for Puerto Rican families. Yet in a close, contested election where every vote truly mattered, candidates took notice that boricuas are close to five percent of the Pilgrim State's population, and saw the value of talking about what they would do for us and our people in a targeted way.

The most obvious example of this was in a late July debate between Sen. Markey and Rep. Kennedy, where Markey buried his challenger for his vote in 2016 for the so-called PROMESA law. That act of Congress imposed a fiscal oversight board in Puerto Rico, which has subsequently resulted in savage cuts to health care, housing and education funding there. To Puerto Ricans, who don’t usually hear federal elected officials talk about this reality in such clear-cut terms, Markey delivered prime time exposure to an important issue, taking a hard stance that will help drive the rest of the Senate’s Democratic caucus in the future. Positioning on PROMESA was also a part of the race between Rep. Neal and Morse.


While Morse campaigned on this issue more aggressively, Neal’s reelection bid made policy statements to match, something that will hopefully be valuable to those advocating for job-creating incentives for Puerto Rico before the congressman, as he continues chairing the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

We can only hope all the talk about Puerto Ricans will now be carried down the Acela Corridor to the Democratic presidential campaign headquarters in Philadelphia and right into Joe BidenJoe BidenMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Biden says staff has spoken with Fauci: 'He's been very, very helpful' MORE’s Wilmington, Del., studios, and show that campaign the value of taking a strong policy stance regarding Puerto Rico.

On its messaging targeting Puerto Ricans, the presidential nominee has been mainly focused so far on showing how bad Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Republican John James concedes in Michigan Senate race MORE has been for Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans. He gets no objection from us there. Trump has been a disaster for Puerto Rico, and his thinly veiled racist attitudes towards Hispanics are a serious threat to our well-being — perhaps even existence — in this country.

Yet as Massachusetts showed, there is an opportunity to do even more to get Puerto Rican voters fired up for November, by delivering strong specifics that not only justify a vote against Donald Trump, but drive enthusiastic turnout for the Democratic ticket.

We’d love to hear not just about PROMESA, but about where a Biden administration would fall on dueling efforts in Congress to set a path for Puerto Rican self-determination. What would a President Biden and Vice President Harris do regarding the discrepancies in health care and social welfare entitlements for Puerto Ricans, now that the issue is winding itself through the federal court system? Would a future Democratic White House push a new way on debt relief for the island, or audit the ‘vulture’ funds profiting off self-dealing and insider trading with that debt? What is the plan for expediting the emergency relief that Trump has cruelly slow-walked? Is there a plan for investing in industry and developing a resilient electric grid in Puerto Rico? What about the planeloads of Puerto Ricans, facing an impossible job market on the island, who are daily making the hard choice to relocate to Florida or New York?

In a close, contested election where every vote will truly matter, in states like Pennsylvania and Florida where Puerto Ricans have the numbers to push the Electoral College one way or the other, it’s time for all Democrats to learn from what just happened in Massachusetts and show us their Puerto Rico policy.

It will be a path to victory in November, one that we will gladly share with the 99 other fathers.

Marcos Vilar serves as executive director of Alianza for Progress, a Florida-based organization aimed at building political power for Puerto Ricans and Latinos across the state.