By Yaël Ossowski | Florida Watchdog

ST. PETERSBURG — If the Republican Party is looking revitalize public sentiment and renew popular support for its platform and policies, a perfect opportunity can be found on a tiny island in the Atlantic Ocean.

Just more than 1,000 miles south of Miami on the “island of enchantment,” the commonwealth of Puerto Rico is clinging to its recent referendum result as a sign the time has come to find its righteous place as the 51st state.

Once a spoil of the Spanish-American War in 1898, the island has received scant attention from the U.S. federal government in the past century, save for allowing its residents to take up American passports and host battleships and fleets of Air Force planes.

Though they cast ballots in presidential primaries, Puerto Ricans are allowed nowhere near presidential elections, leaving that a privilege of the “first-class citizens” who inhabit the mainland.

But all that could change in the coming months, as Puerto Ricans feel emboldened by their 61 percent vote in favor of statehood and press on President Barack Obama‘s promise to “respect” the decision reached by popular referendum.

Alas, here is where the demoralized GOP has a chance to remake its name and redeem its poor showing in the 2012 elections, losing not only the presidency with Mitt Romney at the helm, but also any chance of gaining a majority in the U.S. Senate.

With full-steam support for Puerto Rican statehood, the GOP could repair its harmed image in the Latino community, based on its previous rejections of social liberty and tolerance.

What better signal could the Republicans offer than to allow the island the full protection of a U.S. state, wrapped in the flag and the promise of liberty and justice for all?

It would be perfect.

Puerto Ricans in the proposed 51st state are patriotic and long to defend America from her enemies. Close to 100,000 Puerto Ricans have already served in the U.S. military at one time or another, lining them up with a strong constituency for the Republican Party.

They are mindful of faith, skeptical of government intervention and share the hopes and dreams of giving a stable economy for all.

What a better way to rope in the growing Latino vote once confidently held byGeorge W. Bush in the 2000s?

Such a move surely wouldn’t be unprecedented.

The last territory acceded to the United States was Hawaii in 1959, signed into law by Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

“It has given me great satisfaction to sign the Act providing for the admission of Hawaii into the Union,” wrote Eisenhower in his signing statement. “The citizens of Hawaii will … demonstrate anew to the world the vitality of the principles of freedom and self-determination — the principles upon which this Nation was founded 172 years ago.”

Questions about adding senators and congressmen of either party will be a difficult idea to swing past partisan Republicans — who see the island as nothing more than another guaranteed vote for a Democratic agenda — but the cultural conservatism is likely to favor the GOP in the end.

Besides, the last Puerto Rican governor was Luis Fortuño, a dedicated Republican who campaigned heavily for Mitt Romney, so the party can rest assured there are millions of Puerto Ricans who sympathize with its message.

If the GOP can lead the talks on guiding Puerto Rico to be the 51st star on the American flag, then it would do great things to harness and bolster the Republicans’ image and reputation.

Least not among Latinos, but also among a great majority of the American population now open to diverse cultures and exciting new adventures. It would truly be a redemption worth considering.

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