POLITICS

Mitt Romney respects Puerto Rico. A lot.

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Byron York

It's common practice for Mitt Romney, or any other politician, to tell whatever audience he is addressing that he is very glad to be with them and that he thinks their state or city is absolutely wonderful.  But with 23 delegates at stake, Romney outdid himself during a Friday night get-out-the-vote rally in San Juan leading up to Sunday's Puerto Rico primary.

Romney sat through hours of speeches, almost all of them in Spanish, before delivering brief remarks -- less then seven minutes long.  And when he did deliver those remarks, Romney spent most of his time telling the audience not only how wonderful Puerto Rico is but how much he respects everyone there.

"Now, I respect your Mayor Santini," Romney began, referring to San Juan mayor Jorge Santini.  "And your governor [Luis Fortuno] -- what I respect most is that he married a wonderful and beautiful woman."

"I respect the people of this island," Romney added.

"I respect this people."

"I respect your culture."

"I respect your history."

"I respect your leaders."

Such specific and repeated expressions of respect are not part of Romney's standard stump speech.  And when he did express general admiration for his hosts -- which is part of Romney's usual remarks -- he did so with a little extra flourish.

"What a beautiful island," Romney said.

"What a beautiful place."

"What a wonderful culture your enjoy."

"What wonderful people you are."

"I care about you. I care about the people of Puerto Rico."

During his brief visit to the island, Romney was careful not to repeat the mistake of rival Rick Santorum, who during his own visit alienated many Puerto Ricans by declaring that English should be the "main language" of the island if it is to become a state.  Santorum later explained that he meant Puerto Rico should be bilingual, but a spokesman also said Santorum believes English should be the official language of the United States.

It was a controversy Romney, who enjoys the support of virtually the entire political establishment in Puerto Rico, was staying far away from.  After brief nods to his hopes to govern as a conservative, and to the conservatism of Gov. Fortuno, Romney was back to singing Puerto Rico's praises. "I am honored by the endorsement of your leaders," Romney concluded.  "I am honored by the endorsement of your enthusiasm and spirit.  Politics in Puerto Rico is spoken with energy and passion.  Thank you!"

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