Santorum Campaign Still Dealing with Puerto Rico Statehood Backlash

Lara Seligman
National Journal

The campaign of Rick Santorum was still dealing on Friday with fallout from the Republican candidate's comments on Puerto Rican statehood, asserting that he never meant to say residents should be required to speak English before their island territory can become a state.

Santorum national communications director Hogan Gidley told CNN's Early Start Santorum did not mean that speaking English should be a prerequisite for statehood, rather he was emphasizing the importance of English as the “language of opportunity.”

“I think he was speaking in broader context that it would be important for the people of Puerto Rico to speak English so they could have more opportunities in America,” Gidley said. “He’s a grandson of an immigrant and his parents and grandparents spoke Italian, but they had to learn English … the language that would make them prosper.”

But campaigning in Puerto Rico Wednesday, Santorum spoke out in favor of statehood for the U.S. territory, with the proviso that Puerto Ricans should adopt English as their official language. Then on Thursday, Santorum repeated that statement after Puerto Rico’s nonvoting representative in Congress, Democrat Pedro Pierluisi, called Santorum’s comments “narrow and limiting.” Another supporter, Oreste Ramos, withdrew as a Santorum delegate.

Puerto Rico votes on Sunday, with 20 delegates at stake.