Latino Voices

Southwest Airlines To Open Routes To Puerto Rico From Florida

In this June 28, 2008 file photo, cyclists stand on a beach in the Northeast Ecological Corridor Reserve in the municipality of Luquillo in Puerto Rico. The swath of pristine beachfront property along Puerto Rico's north coast that developers have long coveted is now a nature reserve, ending a bitter and lengthy battle between the government and local environmentalists. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo, File)
In this June 28, 2008 file photo, cyclists stand on a beach in the Northeast Ecological Corridor Reserve in the municipality of Luquillo in Puerto Rico. The swath of pristine beachfront property along Puerto Rico's north coast that developers have long coveted is now a nature reserve, ending a bitter and lengthy battle between the government and local environmentalists. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo, File)

Southwest Airlines is headed to the Caribbean.

Florida is becoming so full of Puerto Rican new arrivals that the low-cost airline will start new routes to the island, a travel industry development that highlights the political quandary facing Republicans candidates who are performing poorly among Hispanic voters.

Southwest will open two new routes to Puerto Rico from Tampa and Orlando in April, followed by a third route from Baltimore in April, Spanish newswire EFE reports.

“It’s the first time Southwest will fly outside the continental United States,” company spokeswoman Olga Romero told Spanish newswire EFE.

The airline isn’t the only one who’s noticed the booming boricua population changing the Florida landscape. Some 300,000 Puerto Ricans have moved to the pivotal swing state in the last decade, according to the The Miami Herald, making central Florida a major campaign destination this year for both parties.

Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens by birth. Though Puerto Ricans residing on the island aren’t permitted to vote for president, those who move to the U.S. mainland can. Some 28 percent of Florida’s eligible Latino voters are Puerto Rican, according to Pew Hispanic Center, a close second to Cuban-Americans at 32 percent.

The rising Puerto Rican population, which leans liberal, likely played a role in tilting Florida toward Obama in November’s election. Though polling data remains contradictory, Obama may have also won the Cuban-American vote of Miami-Dade -- a development that would mark a major shift for a population viewed as reliably conservative.

GOP candidate Mitt Romney fared worse among Hispanic voters than any presidential candidate since Bob Dole.

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