SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Hillary Clinton jumped out to an early lead over Bernie Sanders in Puerto Rico's Democratic presidential primary on Sunday, as the front-runner drew closer to securing the number of delegates needed to win her party's White House nomination.
After a blowout victory Saturday in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Clinton is just 60 delegates short of the 2,383 needed to win the nomination, according to an Associated Press count.
There were 60 pledged delegates at stake in Puerto Rico, and Clinton would need a commanding performance to get them all. In early returns, Clinton led Sanders by more than a 2-to-1 margin.
"I'm for Hillary, girl," said 83-year-old Candida Dones. "I can't wait for a female president. She's one of us. She wears the pants. If we don't look out for our own interests, who will?"
While Puerto Rican residents cannot vote in the general election, the island's politics could reverberate into the fall campaign. Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans have left the island to escape a dismal economy, with many resettling in the key electoral battleground of Florida.
Both Sanders and Clinton have pledged to help as the island's government tries to restructure $70 billion worth of public debt the governor has said is unpayable.
"This is one of the most important political moments for Puerto Rico," said Emanuel Rosado, a 29-year-old Clinton supporter. "I'm taking action as a result of the economic crisis."
Two weeks before the primary, Sanders criticized a rescue deal negotiated by U.S. House leaders and the Obama administration as having colonial overtones. In a letter to fellow Senate Democrats, Sanders said the House bill to create a federal control board and allow some restructuring of the territory's $70 billion debt would make "a terrible situation even worse."
He later promised to introduce his own legislation to help the island. Campaigning on the island last month, Sanders promised to fight against "vulture funds" on Wall Street that he said would profit off the fiscal crisis.
"That bill is anti-democratic and it's not in the best interest of Puerto Rico," said Jorge Gaskins, a 67-year-old farmer who supports Sanders and opposes a control board.
Clinton has said she has serious concerns about the board's powers, but believes the legislation should move forward, or "too many Puerto Ricans will continue to suffer."
Both Clinton and Sanders spent Sunday in California, the biggest prize among the five states voting on Tuesday. Clinton told an enthusiastic crowd at Greater St. Paul Baptist Church in Oakland the country is "getting indifferent to the great toll of gun violence," while Sanders made a series of stops in Los Angeles before an evening rally in San Diego.
"Sorry to disturb your brunch," Sanders said at Hamburger Mary's, taking the microphone during their "drag brunch" as disco lights swirled inside. "I just wanted to say that on Tuesday as you all know there is a very important Democratic primary here in California. And my hope is that everyone will stand up and make clear it is too late for establishment politics."
Nearly 2.9 million people are registered to vote in Puerto Rico. Turnout was expected to be high given that Puerto Ricans also were narrowing down their choice for the next governor, as well as senators, representatives and mayors.
While they can participate in presidential primaries, Puerto Ricans do not vote in the November presidential election.
No matter, said former Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila. He supports Puerto Rico's current political status as a commonwealth and urged voters to participate in the primary.
"Many in the past and today think that these presidential primaries are a sham without consequences," he said. "But given the threat that comes from the North and the powerful allies it has here, not taking advantage of this sham to make our voice heard could be a precious wasted opportunity."
Clinton has 1,776 pledged delegates won in primaries and caucuses; Sanders has 1,501. When including superdelegates, her lead over Sanders is substantial — 2,323 to 1,547.
"It is time to focus on squashing 'El Trumpo,'" said Democratic Party superdelegate Andres Lopez, a Clinton backer, referring to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
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