“Buenas tardes!  It is good to be back in Puerto Rico,”  President Obama said to a group of about a thousand people at the San Juan airport.

The president made a five hour visit to Puerto Rico Tuesday, recognizing the political impact of Puerto Ricans on the mainland – including some 841,000 in the key battleground state of Florida.

“This is all about Florida where the Puerto Rican vote is not nearly as Democratic as it is in the Northeast. It's turned into a swing vote,” University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato told Fox News.

“Puerto Ricans living in Florida… could very easily tip that state one way or the other in 2012, that's what this trip is really about.”

Puerto Ricans are just one aspect of the growing Latino vote in the United States, which is expected to be a major force in the next general election. The 2010 census reports the overall Hispanic population has grown 43 percent in the last 10 years.

“I know that today a lot of folks are asking some of the same questions here on the island as they’re asking in Indiana or California or in Texas,” Obama told the group at a welcome event.

“How do I make sure my kids get the kind of education that they need?  How can I put away a little money for retirement?  How can I fill up my gas tank?  How can I pay the bills?”
Unlike those in Indiana, California and Texas, though, folks on the island cannot vote in the general election – only in party primaries. But most of the roughly 4.6 million Puerto Ricans living inside the U.S. are certainly capable of participating.
“Muchas gracias.  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  Thank you, Puerto Rico,” said the president.
The comment was probably directed as much as the Latino community on the mainland as the Puerto Ricans actually in attendance, because President Obama’s re-election campaign is hoping to shore up the voting bloc well in advance of November 2012.
While Presidents Gerald Ford and Lyndon Johnson visited Puerto Rico, Obama is the first American president to officially address the island’s people since John F. Kennedy almost 50 years ago in 1961.

Mike Emanuel is the White House Correspondent for Fox News Channel.

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