SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Wooing Hispanic voters back home, President Barack Obama kept his campaign pledge to become the first president since John Kennedy to make an official visit to this recession- battered U.S. territory. "The aspirations and the struggles on this island mirror those across America," Obama declared Tuesday.
On a sweltering day, thousands crowded the main roads and waved flags as Obama's motorcade roared by. A huge banner filled eight stories of a building, featuring the images of Kennedy and Obama. "We are proud to be part of history," it said.
Puerto Ricans are an important component of the fast-growing Hispanic population in the United States, now totaling 50 million, that Obama wants to mobilize in his re-election campaign.
Even though he spent mere hours on the island, the visit was designed to lift the president's visibility and create goodwill in a territory known as a vacation destination but otherwise something of an afterthought in America.
Residents of Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens but cannot vote in presidential general elections -- only in primaries -- one of many factors that give rise to a sense of second-class citizenship among some residents here.
Reaching out to Puerto Ricans is part of a broader effort to court Hispanics, who accounted for more than half the U.S. population increase over the past decade.
National exit polls showed that 67 percent of Latinos voted for Obama in 2008, compared with 31 percent for Arizona Sen. John McCain, but some Hispanics have become disillusioned with Obama because of his failure to deliver on promises to overhaul immigration policy.
Obama, who visited as a candidate in May 2008, sought to ensure his Puerto Rican listeners they were not forgotten by his administration.