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Clinton Wins Big In Puerto Rico

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s decisive win in Puerto Rico demonstrated that her electoral coalition has at least temporarily survived the blow the Democratic Party dealt her campaign Saturday in denying it an infusion of delegates from Michigan.

The cable networks called the island territory for Clinton the instant polls closed at 3:00 p.m., indicating a landslide; exit polls showed her winning virtually every group, including young voters typically loyal to nomination rival Barack Obama.

Clinton aides said she would use her speech this afternoon, expected around 5:30 p.m., to press her case to uncommitted superdelegates that she’s proven her superior electability by pulling more votes than Obama.

Obama’s spokeswoman in Puerto Rico, Leslie Miller, said Saturday that Clinton’s victory wouldn’t “change the fact that we’re ahead in pledged delegates, superdelegates and states won.”

In truth, the Puerto Rico result is of only limited relevance in November. The territory has no electoral votes, though many Hispanic swing voters in Florida and the Southwest are of Puerto Rican origin.

But Puerto Rico had every reason to be a Clinton stronghold. A full 70 percent of voters surveyed told exit pollsters that they have relatives in New York, which she represents in the Senate, and whose presence has had her tending to the island’s issues she was elected in 2000.

Clinton also ran hard in Puerto Rico, spending the days leading up to the election, and Election Day, on the island.

Obama, by contrast, make himself relatively scarce, though he did break ground by becoming the only one of the three remaining major presidential candidates to record a television advertisement in his own correct but accented Spanish, reminding Puerto Ricans that he too had been raised on an island.

But his only presence there Sunday came over the airwaves.

“I love the people of Puerto Rico,” Obama told Radio Isla Sunday afternoon, the website PRPolitico reported, explaining his expected defeated by saying that "the people of Puerto Rico do not know me as well as they know the Clintons."

Obama called Clinton to congratulate her, his spokesman, Bill Burton, said.

Clinton was expected to speak to supporters in San Juan Sunday around 5:30 p.m.

Clinton on Sunday morning greeted diners at a San Juan bakery, where the level of enthusiasm for the primary varied.

Among the handful of Puerto Rico residents sampled there, opinions ran the gamut from totally disinterested and not planning to vote to fervor among ardent supporters of both candidates who had cast their ballots early in the morning.

Coraly Betencourt, a 55-year-old homemaker, had been vacillating on whether to vote until Clinton won her over during their brief conversation at the bakery.

“She’s very warm and very human and accessible,” Betencourt said.

Observers said they expected turnout to be relatively low for the Sunday primary compared to statewide elections, and confusion over the locations of some the 2,300 polling places may also have depressed turnout at the margins. Election officials announced last week that, thanks to a decision by the archbishop here, polling places at Catholic schools were being relocated, a complication that could impact 20,000 voters.

Roberto Prats, chairman of Puerto Rico's Democratic Party and a Clinton campaign co-chairman on the island, said volunteers were dispatched to all of the affected Catholic schools to redirect voters.

Local elections draw more than 80 percent of the island’s 2.3 million registered voters.

But the debates — and even the parties — are largely based on disagreements about whether the island should continue as a commonwealth, become a state or an independent nation.

Clinton and Obama carefully avoided weighing in on the controversial issue.

Clinton got a standing ovation during a Saturday nigt speech at a mega-church when she pledged “to make sure that the people of Puerto Rico have the right to decide by majority vote what your future status should be.”

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