Romney snags endorsement from Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno

Luis Fortuno, governor of Puerto Rico.
Luis Fortuno

TITUSVILLE, Florida -- Hoping to further ingratiate itself to Florida's Hispanic community, Mitt Romney's campaign announced Friday the endorsement of Puerto Rico's Governor Luis Fortuno. Fortuno will appear alongside Romney at a rally Friday evening in Orlando.

Puerto Rico has 23 delegates up for grabs in its March 18 caucuses -- 11 more than New Hampshire. An important issue to Puerto Rican voters is that of statehood, which will be voted on by the commonwealth later this year. Fortuno leads the pro-statehood New Progressive Party, and earlier today, Romney said he would lend his full support to Puerto Rico were they to vote in favor of seceding to the U.S.

Should the referendum vote determine that Puerto Rico would like to become a state, Congress and the president would need to make final approval of such an addition.

Addressing the Hispanic Leaders Network in Miami, Romney said he expected Puerto Rico to vote in favor of becoming the 51st state, and if so, "we will vote for the process in Washington to provide statehood to Puerto Rico, and again create a model in the Caribbean - one more model in Latin America - of the benefits of having freedom."

Can Romney or Gingrich win over Latinos?

Romney's chief rival, Newt Gingrich, also addressed the issue of Puerto Rican statehood when speaking to the group just moments before, but would not say definitively if he believed the commonwealth should join the Union. "I have had a firm position on the right of the Puerto Rican people to have a referendum. I am not dictating the outcome of the referendum because there are several options and the Puerto Rican people have to make that decision."

Stressing the importance of Romney's economic platform, Fortuno said in his endorsement statement, "Mitt Romney is the one candidate who has the record, leadership, experience, and pro-growth plan to continue the course of private-sector job creation we've begun in Puerto Rico and provide economic stability for generations."

Watch Luis Fortuno, the governor of Puerto Rico, talk with's Brian Montopoli about his push for statehood and his efforts to save the Puerto Rican economy.

  • Sarah B. Boxer On Twitter»

    Sarah B. Boxer covers politics for CBS News.