Fortuño is pushing for Puerto Rico to become a state—and he sees Romney as an ally.
The former Massachusetts governor sympathizes more openly with Puerto Rico’s pro-statehood camp than his GOP competitors. While Romney’s top rival, Rick Santorum, called on Wednesday for Puerto Rico to adopt English as the island’s official language as a condition for becoming a state, Romney says Puerto Rico should be admitted to the union without such a condition if its citizens decide to vote to join in a referendum scheduled for Nov. 6.
"It just makes sense,” Fortuño told Fox News. “We have been part of the United States since 1898. Natural-born citizens since 1917. Our men and women have served in greater numbers than most states since then. And I believe that it's the right thing to do in the 21st century, to allow almost 4 million American citizens to express our will and then to work with the White House and hopefully President Romney to address this issue."
President Barack Obama does not have an official position on Puerto Rico’s status, saying he will respect the decision of the island’s voters.
Only voters affiliated with the Fortuño’s conservative New Progressive Party were permitted to cast ballots in the island’s Republican primary this year – a requirement that obligated pro-Republican Puerto Ricans to declare their support for statehood.
With the combined benefit of Fortuño’s endorsement and Santorum’s gaffes with the local press, Romney cruised to an easy victory, taking some 83 percent of the vote and all of the 20 delegates up for grabs. About 130,000 Puerto Ricans cast votes in Sunday’s primary, according to the Associated Press.
The victory emboldened Romney, who polls poorly among Latinos nationally.
"Those people who don't think that Latinos will vote for a Republican need to take a look in Puerto Rico," Romney said. "I intend to become our nominee and I intend to get Latino voters to vote for a Republican."
A Fox News Latino poll found only 14 percent of likely Hispanic voters favored Romney in a head-to-head race with Obama.